Most millennials’ positions on climate change and sustainability can be summed up in one sentence: It is real, and they believe in taking action to stop it. However, it seems that millennials often do not practice what they preach, even as it is becoming more crucial for this young generation to be the leading voice in environmental conservation.
A University of Texas energy poll revealed that 91 percent of millennials believe climate change is occurring, yet, this belief does not strongly translate into direct action. Although a high percentage of millennials claim to care about climate change on social media and in polls, a 40-year survey and analysis reported by the Washington Post found that this generation’s young Americans are less interested in conserving the environment than generations before them at their age. The study cites that 15 percent of millennials said they do not put effort into environmental conservation. For example, when it comes to reducing shower times or minimizing energy use, millennials were the least likely — compared to the baby boomers and Generation X — to make lifestyle changes.
Furthermore, a study by the Glass Packaging Institute stated that while millennials are “more likely than any other age group to be concerned about serious environmental issues,” they are also “least likely to take actions that would support those beliefs —the least likely to sort recyclables from trash and the least likely to take steps to save energy.” The study describes this age group as “high awareness, low action” particularly because there is a disconnect between personal responsibility and supporting environmental measures. Millennials must be at the forefront of the climate change and environmental movements, especially with resources like social media and the internet to bolster education and the spread of information.
While this generation considers itself more aware, educated and proactive, studies conclude that most millennials still do not sacrifice comfort for action. There must be a fundamental shift in the way that individuals of all ages hold each other personally accountable, especially when it comes to the environment.
An L.A. Times article announced that Californians reduced their water usage by 31 percent during July 2015, when Gov. Jerry Brown mandated that the state cut urban water usage by 25 percent. This action revealed the impact individuals are able to create with significant lifestyle changes that positively affect the environment, a learning lesson for a generation not focused on the impact of individual actions.
However, millennials should not wait for crises as dire as the drought to enact real change. These lifestyle changes, from watering lawns less to investing in sustainable solutions for individual homes, must always remain a priority. With sea levels steadily rising and the rapid meltdown of glacier ice caps, millennials — the generation on track to be the most-educated, as well as the most connected — carry the responsibility of encouraging environmental change. Otherwise, preventable crises like the drought will become commonplace.
While individual responsibility must be increased and lifestyle changes instituted universally, real action must be implemented to hold environmentally harmful players accountable and encourage tangible change. Social media, for one, is an incredibly effective tool. Social media shaming and online campaigns against irresponsible actions have created tangible change in the past and will continue to be an effective tool in the future.
During the Deepwater Oil Spill, activists used social media to garner an enormous public reaction; there was outrage, alongside satirical remakes of footage of the spill. In 2016, Facebook became a powerful tool used for individuals across the nation to stand in solidarity with the protestors at Standing Rock, to object against the construction of an oil pipeline that would be environmentally damaging. Although it is rare that corporations who profit from environmental exploitation will change their practices, a strong public reaction that can potentially damage corporations’ reputations may help alter their future policies.
Additionally, college students must urge their own campuses to become more responsible and environmentally aware. Student environmental organizations have become increasingly popular on college campuses and have been able to shape the dialogue around sustainability. These organizations have the ability to shed light on individual practices, and therefore they should lobby for institutional changes, starting on their campus. From energy-efficient appliances in dorms to responsible food selections -— more ambitiously — divesting from fossil fuels and energy-saving policies, universities such as USC have the resources to enact change. Students, and millennials overall, must proactively voice their opinions to make conservation a top priority.
Millennials are the generation that grew up hearing “Do something before it’s too late.” Yet, in the face of such a huge issue, they are still hesitant to take action. Under the Trump administration, sustainability is far from a priority. Millennials must shoulder this added burden and make the world aware that they will not back down from continuing the progress that has so painstakingly been made. Now is not the time to question the legitimacy of climate change or the legislation that has begun the long, difficult journey of restoring our planet. Now is the time to jump in headfirst and start walking the walk.