Millennials are the key to a successfully sustainable future
Indeed, I’d say we are! Let me explain why…
My first point actually has nothing to do with sustainability or even the planet… A strange way to begin this article perhaps, but I think it is one of the biggest reasons why this generation will be the one to create a successfully sustainable future.
In 2010, a Pew Research Report investigated the values, attitudes, and experiences of millennials (that is, people born between 1980 and 1998). The study showed how our generation is more confident, liberal, upbeat, self-expressive, diverse, and more open to change than older generations. Not only this, but we are apparently more connected and educated than our elders. This is partly due to a greater number of us obtaining higher levels of education (40% of 25- to 29- year-old employees in the U.S. have at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2000 this figure was 32%, in 1985 it was 26%, and it was just 16% in 1964), but I think most of it is down to the time and era of our transition from childhood to adulthood. We have grown up in a unique time driven largely by humanity’s technological advances, namely the internet. Before the internet, there were far fewer ways of obtaining information, and sources were often limited, prejudiced, and/or propagandic. Our generation has always had unlimited access to vast amounts of information on almost every topic under the sun. The internet has made it alarmingly easy to spread lots of information quickly and to obtain said information even quicker. We have been exposed to topics previous generations were restricted from (feminism, cultural differences, politics, global issues, and religion to name a few). Social media has played a significant role here too. Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, people from all over the globe can now connect and communicate with each other, contributing massively to our generation’s open-mindedness. Millennials have grown up in a very different social (and physical!) environment to that of previous generations which I believe has been massively advantageous and is a crucial element to supporting my statement: millennials are the key to a successfully sustainable future.
As a result of the worldwide spreading and sharing of information enabled by the internet, we are much more aware of the environment, its current status, and the part we play in destroying it. The internet has enabled us to discover why, what, and how these things are happening, and how we can prevent it… Here are a few examples.
Documentaries and films such as Cowspiracy, Earthlings, and Live and Let Live are readily-accessible to the general public and are the reason why many meat-eaters turn to vegetarianism, if not veganism (for environmental reasons or otherwise). It is now widely acknowledged that eliminating (or at least reducing) your meat and dairy intake is a relatively easy way of decreasing your environmental impact on the planet, and that a vegan diet has the least environmental impact. People cite one or more of three key motives for going vegan – animal welfare, environmental concerns, and/or personal health – and veganism is being accompanied by an endless array of new business startups, YouTube channels, Instagram influencers, trendy events, and polemical documentaries. The rise and spread of veganism has been relatively recent and fuelled significantly, I argue, by the internet.
Whilst we’re on the topic of food, did you know that of the 542,000 Britons who said they were vegan in 2016 (alongside a vegetarian population of 1.14 million), half of them were aged between 15-34 years-old. Most people within this age bracket are classed as millennials. Of the 168,000 people that participated in Veganuary this year (up from 3,300 on its 2014 launch), 60% were under 35 years-old. And these are just the numbers that signed up officially online. Today, an estimated 20% of British under-35 year-olds have tried a vegan diet. Whether this is due to the internet and social media or our ‘openness’ as a generation one cannot but argue that the majority of British (and in fact global) vegans are millennials. Indeed, Food Revolution Network state millennials as the central drivers to this worldwide shift away from consuming animal products. VegfestUK’s manager Tim Barford suggests the recent explosion of interest in veganism is partly down the “real cultural change among millennials”. And, the reason behind their switch to veganism is beside the point – a vegan diet is more sustainable, and the younger generations are adopting this.
And it’s not just sustainable food choices that our generation is pushing for more than our elders. An AA study showed that young drivers are more likely to buy an electric car compared to other road-users: 50% of drivers aged between 25-34 years-old said they would switch from petrol and diesel motors to EVs (electric vehicles) yet only 29% of 55-64 year-olds said they would consider the change.
When it comes to sustainable shopping, millennials have been labelled as “the most environmentally- and socially- aware consumer market yet” by Ben Gleisner, founder of Conscious Consumers. Retail analyst Alice Goody found that 44% of 17-26 year-olds “said they would like to see more eco-friendly fabrics used in clothes.”
31% of British 18-34 year-olds are “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change compared with just 19% of over-65s. 35% of graduates are “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change compared with just 20% among those without educational qualifications above GCSE level. These statistics (published by The National Centre for Social Research in 2018) show that the young and educated Britons are more worried about climate change than the older, less educated Britons. According to a 2018 Gallup Poll Social Series study, 70% of 18-34 year-old Americans worry about climate change, yet 62% of 35-54 year-old Americans and only 56% of over-55 year-old Americans worry about it. The study also discovered that 18-25 year-olds feel protecting the environment is more important than economic gain and see education and social awareness as key enablers to sustainable development. This particular result reiterates my first point about millennials’ attitudes, values, and social attributes.
Finally, as millennials we can learn from the mistakes of older generations and use their experiences to better the planet for everyone in the future. Failing that, we can see what has become of our planet as a result of the actions of our ancestors, and surely we want to change that? For most of us millennials, the planet has been breaking since we were born, and the severity of its brokenness has increased exponentially as our lives have unfolded. I suggest that because we have been born into such a depressing reality, our generation wants to see our planet restored to its former – unbroken, completely whole – glory!
I understand that the current scenario is depressing, discouraging, and daunting. It can instill feelings of hopelessness and abandonment. But it’s still not too late to reverse and undo the damage caused to our planet. We may be the last generation that can take action to seriously start healing it. Surely this challenge is an opportunity too? Surely this is inspiring? Due to this era of technology, information, and connectivity, we are the first generation with a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We still have the power to be a generation that leaves the environment in a better state than we found it. In order to do this, millennials need to implement and embrace three key things: education, inspiration, and action.
In a 2009 report, the UN stated: “Youth education represents one of the most effective tools to combat the destructive potential of climate change and cultivate an international understanding among members of the next generation.” Education – especially educating our young people and children – is so important! A great responsibility is being placed on our young shoulders, but we will not go far in fulfilling that responsibility unless we (as a global community) are educated and engaged on the causes, impacts, and solutions of climate change. As with any new challenge or task, you must be educated about it and develop your knowledge of it before you actually ‘do it’ otherwise success is unlikely!
Being properly educated is excellent, but if you’re not inspired to actively do something with it, then what’s the point? Why waste time, energy, and effort educating yourself when you have no desire to use or implement that knowledge? We need something to inspire us to put into action what we have learnt. We must want to make a difference and change. By doing so, I hope we inspire others too. Inspiring our generation, raising awareness, enabling others to feel that we can make a difference and that there is hope for the planet (yes, even now!) is a challenge, but it also an opportunity. We shouldn’t shy away but take up the gauntlet with passion, hope, and drive now, even before we’re fully responsible for our planet!
We need to combine education with inspiration to take action. We must start making those initial, small changes (cut down on your meat intake, utilise public transport more often, recycle and reuse, shop in charity shops, reduce your plastic consumption, etc. …). Before long, these small changes will become part of our lifestyles and we’ll be doing them without even thinking. If we work towards changing our lifestyle to a more eco-friendly, sustainable, climate-conscious way of living, we will surely inspire others to change too, perhaps even our elders! [Please note I am not excluding older generations … anyone and everyone can and should make changes. We should all stand and work together to tackle this challenge. I simply believe that millennials have a particular role to play in this!]. The more people we can reach, the greater the impact of our actions to tackle climate change now and create a more sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations.
So, that is why I think millennials are the key to a successfully sustainable future. And I firmly believe that, as a generation, we truly do have the ability to start creating and implementing a sustainable planet today. A successfully sustainable future is attainable, and we are the key to achieving this. I would love us all to feel inspired and empowered by this: we can make a difference. You can make a difference. I will make a difference – will you?
This article was contributed by @amy_siani. Amy is a Welsh Geography graduate passionate about all things sustainability. She has always loved the natural world having spent her whole life in beautiful parts of rural west Wales. Her passion and concern for caring for our planet and raising awareness about climate change (especially amongst people her age and younger) developed while she was at university, and has continued to grow since. She is currently pursuing a career in writing, starting with her blog: www.thinkythoughtsofachickpea.wordpress.com/
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