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Why Is Generation X So Skeptical About Climate Change?

We just had Snowmageddon and then had a heat wave in parts of the US. Local, short-term weather events are suddenly proof of long-term climate change once again, according to journalists and biased bloggers who claim to care about science. “Generation X”, as marketing people call the generation after the Baby Boomers, aren’t buying it, despite the fact that awareness campaigns about global warming have gone on for most of their lives.

Some calibration of terms and therefore ages is in order. The Baby Boom was 1946, after the soldiers from World War II came home from Europe and Japan.  Only decades later did the Baby Boomers become an entire ‘generation’ instead of a birthing blip, but generations are generally considered 20 years. The generation after the Baby Boomers were the 13th generation of ‘Americans’ but 13 is an unlucky number so they were called Generation X instead. Since the Baby Boom began in 1946 the next generation should have been 1966.  Oddly, the researchers in the current analysis consider Generation X from 1961 to 1981, which seems rather arbitrary and may impact the analysis.  Obviously, the problem with labels like ‘generations’ are that they are subjective and a hundred people are going to tell me I am wrong – it’s no matter to me, given my birth year I could be the last Baby Boomer or the first Generation X or I could be a latecomer to Generation X.  But in this strange grouping Generation X listened to the Beatles rather than the actual Generation X band, which had Billy Idol and was named such because they were inspired by the book “Generation X”, written about England’s mod subculture of 1964, people who were clearly Baby Boomers.

Confused?  Yeah, social designations are both arbitrary and relative so it’s safe to believe anything you want. Don’t read much into the label but keep the dates in mind.

First, let’s talk about their their conclusion in The Generation X Report, based on the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research; Generation X, they say, is lukewarm about warming – they are uninformed about the causes, unconcerned about the potential dangers and doubt it is happening.

It isn’t just the stupid people, 12% of those who aren’t buying it are quite scientifically literate. This corresponds to other surveys which also found that as scientifically literacy went up, so did skepticism about global warming. That larger study didn’t just do the simple liberal or conservative (which is codespeak for Democrat and Republican to simplistic sociologists) correlation this new analysis did. The new analysis found that 50% of liberals were very concerned about global warming while 0% of conservatives were.  The conservatives are Flat Earth Holocaust Denying Baby Killers, right?  Well, no, unless 50% of Democrats are the same thing. Partisans who are using science to drum up votes will spin it that way, the same way they manage to spin that 39% of the right and 30% of the left deny evolution so therefore only the right is anti-science about biology.(1)

In the larger Social Science Research Network Study I mentioned above, the picture between left and right was more nuanced. They had questions which were designed to measureindependence.  People who were more independent thinkers tended to be more conservative and also more skeptical about global warming.  Basically, if you are a liberal, you are more trained to obey experts and elites.

Don’t like that phrasing?  I know how you vote.

Other studies back that up, though. ‘Global warming’ has made a comeback in the media, thanks to scientifically illiterate journalists who were waiting for a heat wave to yell ‘SEE?  DO YOU BELIEVE NOW?!?! (as evidence: TIME and the Associated Press) but it was never scientifically correct and was slowly phased out of the science discourse and replaced with ‘climate change’.What happened when people were surveyed using both terms, the scientifically illiterate one and the more correct one? Acceptance went from 44% to over 60% for Republicans but when it came to Democrats, 86% believed no matter what term was used. They believed what the question told them they were supposed to believe and you could have written ‘Smurfs are causing the planet to warm and it is caused by man’s effect on the environment’ and they would have checked that True box.  That isn’t being smarter than the other side, it is being intellectual sheep.

Does this mean Generation X is more intellectually independent than prior or more recent generations?  There is no evidence for that.  Scientific literacy is growing, no matter how much self-loathing you read in mainstream media about how stupid people are. Adult science literacy has tripled since I graduated college.

What might explain it?  Media fatigue is a reasonable answer.  Generation X grew up being fed the myth that DDT gives people cancer and alar on apples too.  Oat bran was a miracle cereal and then psyllium was the go-to product.  Global warming came after the Population Bomb and a new Ice Age.  Bacon and eggs caused heart attacks. It had to be true, they said so in an episode of “Quantum Leap”.

Generation X.  We don’t want to give up our sweet rides but at least we care more about global warming than our kids.  Oh, and we are skeptics.  Credit: Shutterstock

As a result of being inundated for most of their lives by scare journalism, only 5% of people ages 32 to 52 are worried about climate change.   It isn’t just the old coots not feeling any pressure to quit using an air conditioner so a bunch of Indian and Chinese people can. Young people are even less interested in saving the environment than Generation X. And being a parent makes no difference, so it isn’t like we can just appeal to letting future generations enjoy nature – people with young children were less likely to be worried about climate change than single people or childless couples in the new Generation X report.

It also must be considered that as scientists became more politically one-sided, and more politically active, people became less inclined to believe scientists were being impartial. The world is also not made up solely of mainstream media and editors and journalists who control what people read, so if anti-GMO and anti-vaccine people on the left want confirmation bias, they can find it just as easily as anti-climate and anti-evolution people on the right can.

It isn’t like there is an awareness problem.  Everyone is aware of climate change.  It may be there is an over-awareness problem, especially at a time when there is worldwide economic instability and, in America, rampant unemployment with looming tax increases that will make the situation for families even worse.  Our current policies and the need for media to hype shock stories are deadening the intellectual senses of the public who is increasingly more worried about next week. We no longer have the luxury of worrying about the world of 2100.