Those taking part in a survey published this month found so-called Millennials are less concerned about the environment than previous generations. To a certain degree, so-called flower-power during the 1960s and early 1970s was just as much about environmental protection as it was about world peace. But this is not your parent's generation. Those in their 20's, the survey suggested, expressed apathy toward the issue.
Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, published in 1962, argued that wanton use of pesticides was causing rampant environmental damage. Her book was credited largely with spawning the environmental movement, six years before half-a-million 20-somethings gathered in New York for the Woodstock music festival. A half-century later, however, and the youth of today have seemingly shrugged off the environmental movement.
College freshmen said, for the most part, they were either too lazy to make any sort of noise about the environment or simply figured it wasn't worth the effort. Sure they recycle, but those who still study the environmental sciences said it's likely that Millennials don't see the environment as an issue they can do much about.
Millenials are likely to have more computing power in their pocket than the astronauts did during the first trip to the moon in 1969. This gives them near-instantaneous access to world events. But this lends to the argument that nuance is lost in a 140-character news cycle. Today, 20-somethings are more likely to read Lady Gaga's messages on Twitter than they are to read a book like Silent Spring. While Jim Morrison waxed poetic about Nietzsche, today's pop icons are likely to discuss Barbies and Arby's. With this immediacy of the digital age comes, as the polling data suggest, a shortened attention span and a heightened level of apathy. Just look at the firestorm over the Kony 2012 campaign.
Media ecologist Marshall McLuhan postulated about the idea of a global village long before the modern digital age dawned. In the 21st century, the notion of an interconnected society has been replaced by character actors in an online network. While global connections are denser, media campaigns that were once durable for months barely last a day.
Last month, actress Lucy Lawless was arrested in New Zealand during a Greenpeace protest of a drillship's deployment to the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska. It's unlikely, however, that few outside the region knew of her protest or that oil drilling was even planned for arctic waters. Opinion extremity, the idea that only extreme messages "go viral," lends itself to the idea that, over time, the environmental issue gets sidelined in favor of more pressing issues, like who's left on Dancing With the Stars.
The adage that "sexy sells" in the modern digital age may be defining what piques the interest of the Millennials. Environmental issues, however, aren't as sexy as they were 50 years ago. Modern-day debates over energy, like the Keystone XL oil pipeline, get sidelined by political theater in the news media. Sexy sells, but over time, an issue like environmentalism loses its appeal.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com