A European study is calling into question stereotypes that the “youth” is fighting against carbon emissions while the “old” people watch on or actively obstruct progressive environmental policies. However, such assertions may be more myth than fact, as surveys show that the so-called “young saviors” are actually refusing to limit their consumption.
When Greta Thunberg spoke to world leaders at a climate summit in New York last year, it felt like a generational clash. On the one hand, a Swedish activist, then 16, was demanding that we “change our way of life.” On the other hand, according to her, older generations of older politicians were to blame for their inaction.
From the perspective of the Western media, it seemed as if Thunberg and her followers in the Fridays for Future movement represented their generational peers who were collectively trying to save the planet while their irresponsible parents were guilty of neglecting the issue.
But it is not that simple.
The German Die Welt newspaper reported that today’s youth often have opinions that deviate from those in the Fridays for Future movement. The daily quoted an extensive climate study by the European Investment Bank (EIB), according to which respondents in EU countries over the age of 65 often talk about the fight against climate change in a much more environmentally friendly way than those in the 15 to 29 age group.
The question of consumption is especially telling in this study, which was conducted in October and November of last year. Respondents were asked whether to ban products and services most responsible for harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Only 39 percent of Europeans in the 15 to 29 age group agreed, while 53 percent in the over-65 group agreed. A similar trend permeates many other topics. When it came to a hypothetical ban on short-haul air transport, only 25 percent of respondents in the youngest group agreed with such an idea, while 31 percent within the oldest group were in favor.
It is possible that “young people” are very well-informed and know that domestic flights create only a negligible amount of harmful emissions. However, it is more likely that climate protection is simply not as high a priority issue among young people as the omnipresent footage of protesting climate activists on TV would suggest.
The survey offers much more, though. Only 28 percent of “young” respondents support a ban on high-emission cars in cities, while 44 percent of “old” respondents support the idea.
When it comes to reducing oil consumption, recycling, or banning the production of non-durable goods, the survey confirms the trend. The German daily thus noted that in the climate protection issue, differences of opinion between generations are not nearly as prominent as many radicals among Greta’s supporters likely believed.
Overall, EIB Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle praised the study results, as across all age groups, the view has prevailed that people can overcome the climate crisis by changing their behavior.
Greta herself refuses to travel by plane and says she does not get attached to material possessions.
“I don’t need to fly to Thailand or buy new clothes to feel happy,” she said.
However, as the survey suggests, her words may resonate among those in her age group only to a limited extent.