In its recently updated report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that if the current rate of carbon emissions persists, the world will exhaust its remaining “carbon budget” (the maximum amount of emissions that can happen in order to still meet targets to limit global warming) by 2030. If that is the case, the global target to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would be next to impossible – and younger generations will increasingly face the impacts of global warming in their lives. So with Earth Day approaching (April 22), CivicScience took a special look at the opinions on climate change and sustainability through the lens of young adults.
For the last few years, millions of school-aged students have taken part in a global youth climate strike and school walkout in protest of a lack of climate change legislation. Clearly, younger generations are deeply concerned – but a CivicScience study from late 2022 showed that Gen Z is less concerned about climate change today than young adults in the past.
As it stands, recent data from 2023 show that 83% of Gen Z adults have some level of concern about climate change and the environment. Although, a fourth of this age group say they are ‘very concerned,’ which is lower than older age groups. However, when it comes to outlook on the future, data suggest Gen Z is generally more positive than older generations. And they are more likely to believe that individuals have the power to effect positive change.
First, Gen Z is a bit more likely than Millennials and Gen X generations to say they feel that individual choices and lifestyle changes can contribute to the overall goal of reducing climate change’s impact. Gen Z adults also report that they think about their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment at a higher rate.
It’s worth calling out that nearly (or more than) 40% of each age group disagrees that individual action will make a difference. Adults aged 35-54 are the most likely to strongly disagree that individuals can reduce the impact of climate change through their choices.
Looking ahead, Gen Z is the most likely to believe that the collective actions of individual citizens will have the biggest impact on the future of the environment – and more than 40% say a joint effort between individuals, businesses, and governments will be necessary to impact climate change.
Recent studies have attempted to highlight that individual actions alone won’t collectively reverse the impact of climate change. They suggest that reduction in global emissions would require a fundamental shift away from traditional energy sources, given that over three-fourths of all carbon emissions come from energy (largely burning fossil fuels). However, personal action is still thought to play a role.
That said, past CivicScience data has shown that even though Gen Z is more positive about making an individual impact, that doesn’t always translate to proactively making their lifestyles more “sustainable.” For example, Gen Z adults recycle less often than older adults and are less likely to say they prioritize purchasing environmentally friendly products. However, one area where they shine is in intent to purchase an electric vehicle – nearly 2-in-5 non-owners plan to purchase one, outpacing older adults.
Perhaps young adults just believe that there are other ways individuals can contribute to improving environmental conditions aside from day-to-day lifestyle changes like recycling or shopping habits – maybe through career and job choices or activism and volunteering. Alternatively, it could be that Gen Z is simply more hopeful regarding the progress being made to address climate change. Data show this generation exhibits the highest rates of confidence in the potential of renewable energy technology advancements like solar and wind power and their ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Further research indicates that despite acknowledging that future generations will face consequences of climate change and extreme weather, younger individuals are generally less pessimistic than their older counterparts about the future in general.
While legislation that puts pressure on industries to reduce their carbon emissions is largely stalled in the U.S., CivicScience will continue to closely track how younger generations’ opinions evolve.
Interested in more forward-looking insights about how consumers are responding to all things related to sustainability, climate change, and the environment? Work with us.