Apr 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

First look: Climate, environment shape Gen Z life decisions

Percentage who say future life decisions will be influenced by the state of the environment
Data: 4-H/Harris Poll; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Eight out of 10 teenagers expect climate change and other environmental forces to affect big decisions like where they live and whether to have children, according to a new survey shared first with Axios.

Driving the news: The survey by youth development group 4-H and Harris Poll found that just 45% of teenagers age 13-19 believe political and global leaders are taking meaningful action to protect the environment.

  • But they do show some signs of hope: 77% feel that they have a responsibility for protecting the future of the planet and the same share feel empowered to act.

The big picture: Generation Z teenagers are very concerned about climate and the environment and see harms already unfolding.

  • Their attitudes help set expectations of government and corporate leaders, and these trends are evident across racial and gender traits, the polling shows.

By the numbers: 84% agree that "if we don't address climate change today, it will be too late for future generations, making some parts of the planet unlivable."

  • The same share, 84%, believe climate change will affect "everyone" in their generation due to geopolitical instability.
  • 69% worry their family will be affected by climate change in the near future.
  • 62% believe older generations have had a negative impact on the environment.
  • They also see room for improvement locally. Only a slight majority — 55% — say their community makes a "meaningful" effort to prevent environmental hazards to protect citizens.

The intrigue: Young people's emotional states and interest in their impact on the environment appear to be influenced by how often they interact with the environment.

Pollsters questioned teens about their stress and happiness levels, and time spent outdoors, and found a connection.

  • Among youth who spend 1-5 hours outside per week, just 31% rated their happiness level in the 8-10 range on a 10-point scale, while 42% put their stress level that high on the same scale.
  • But among youth who spend 11 or more hours outside weekly, the results flip: 51% are in the 8-10 happiness range and stress level drops to 30% on that scale.

Methodology: The Harris Poll was conducted on behalf of 4-H from Jan. 5 to Jan. 18 among 1,500 respondents ages 13-19, and listed a confidence interval of 95% but did not disclose a margin of error.

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