Words by Amy Holden, Staff Writer
With over 100 UK cities, towns and villages experiencing school strikes and 18 year old Greta Thunberg becoming the face of the new climate change movement, it was widely-believed that there is a generational divide surrounding beliefs in climate change urgency and the importance of methods to prevent it further. However, a new study by New Scientist magazine and the Policy Institute at King’s College London shows this not to be the case, with the need for action being the majority-view of all age groups.
At the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, Thunberg gave an impassioned speech that went viral, saying “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you.” This speech, alongside the school strikes, empowered young people to stand up against climate change. Furthermore, a 2019 comment by Billie Eilish; “Hopefully the adults and the old people start listening to us [about the climate crisis]”, reinforced the idea that there was a generational divide and became a motivating factor for many young people to partake in protest. The belief in the gap was not only held by young people though, with 50% of all study participants believing that the generations differed in their opinions on the topic.
However, this new study suggests that all age groups are concerned about the future of our climate and all groups are willing to make changes to protect it. The study looked at 4 age-groups: Gen Z (people under 24), Millennials (25-40), Gen X (41-56) and Baby Boomers (57-75) and found that 7 out of 10 people from all the groups, believed that climate change and biodiversity loss justified major lifestyle changes. 74% of Baby Boomers and 71% of Gen Z supported lifestyle changes, with 68% of the former prepared to make said changes and 70% of Gen Z. Potentially more surprising was the result that 44% of Baby Boomers thought that the environment should be prioritised over economic growth, whilst only 24% did not.
The survey also looked at boycotts by age group and found that older groups were more likely to have boycotted a product in hope of making positive changes: 31% of Baby Boomers, compared to 12% of Gen Z. Looking to the future however, the younger age groups were found to be more fatalistic, with 33% of Gen Z thinking that changes would make little difference compared to 19% of Baby Boomers, although both these statistics show that the overwhelming majority believe that it is not too late to help the planet.
Professor Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at KCL said “Parents and grandparents care deeply about the legacy they’re leaving for their children and grandchildren” and that the prominence of young people such as Thunberg, has created a sense of ageism – that the study contradicts. It is important to note however, that in places such as the US, the generational gap is much larger, suggesting that there is still work to do. Whilst the young may be taking a more prominent stand and being some of the figureheads, the study shows that older generations cannot be discounted. Regardless of age, it is clear that for the vast majority, the threat to the planet is scarily real and something that can only be tackled by all age groups collaborating.