Uneducated or just plain wasteful?


Scampering about campus with reusable water bottles in tow, it’s easy to think that our generation is more aware of our environmental impact than our parents. We recycle and avoid plastic bags like the plague – don’t we deserve a prize?

Not exactly. Although our generation has the reputation for being environmentally conscious, a study entitled “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, -Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1996-2009” has revealed otherwise.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, and her colleagues Elise Freeman and Keith Campbell, have discovered that “today’s young Americans are less interested in the environment and in conserving resources – and often less civic-minded overall – than their elders were when they were young.”

The analysis covered three generations: the baby boomers, gen xers, and millennials. When the baby boomers were our age, five percent admitted to doing nothing to protect the environment, and eight percent of gen xers said the same.

What is alarming is that of our generation surveyed, 15 percent confessed to making zero effort to help the environment.  

Despite endless presentations in school, the “save the environment” message does not seem to have resonated with our generation. 

It’s not that millennials don’t care: 85-90 percent are “open to protecting the environment and natural resources, but [are] not leaders and [are] not interested in being seriously inconvenienced or paying a cost to do so.”

Although we claim to be environmentally aware, this still rings true. How many times have you thrown a plastic bottle away, simply because there was no recycling bin in sight? At UVM it is not uncommon to see students utterly perplexed by the trash-recycle-compost system, who in the end throw everything into random bins out of frustration.

I do believe that our generation is more aware of the environment, but I think the way we are educated in high school and middle school is half-hearted at best. Long speeches on Earth Day, boring guest lecturers and power point presentations drowning in text – is this the way students should be introduced to an enormous issue? There must be other methods.

As a result of these dull presentations, we have pangs of guilt when we do something wasteful, but we quickly move on without ever changing our habits. If conservation were a greater aspect of the high school science curriculum and not just a footnote, perhaps the number of active environmentalists in the millennial generation would grow.

In fact, why not implement separate classes on protecting the environment in grade school and high school? The subject does not have to be dull: classes full of hands-on learning, field trips, decorating reusable water bottles and sharing ideas of how to decrease our carbon footprint could be fun.

Let’s face the facts. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto is not hitting home with our generation, and something needs to change. In the 21st century, our planet is too important for our generation to ignore. It all starts with an act of self-reflection – what will you do to benefit the environment today?