Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media Engagement With Issue (2023)

Majorities of Americans support array of measures to address climate change but stop short of full break with fossil fuels

Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media Engagement With Issue (1)

How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand how Americans view climate, energy and environmental issues. We surveyed 13,749 U.S. adults from April 20 to 29, 2021.

The survey was conducted on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP) and included an oversample of adults ages 18 to 24 from the Ipsos Knowledge Panel. A total of 912 Generation Z adults, born after 1996, were included in the sample.

Respondents on both panels are recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

(Video) Gen Z fighting for climate change

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

In the first year of Joe Biden’s presidential term, climate, energy and environmental policy have been the subject of renewed federal attention. In recent months, the United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency has moved to sharply restrict greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden has outlined a range of policy goals, including getting the U.S. to “net-zero” by 2050.

Even as Americans identify a number of pressing national problems, majorities see an array of actors, from government to business, as doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change and are broadly supportive of a range of policy approaches that would help address climate change, including moving toward renewable energy sources, developing infrastructure for electric vehicles, and increasing taxes and restrictions on carbon emissions.

Still, most Americans favor using a mix of energy sources to meet the country’s needs – including renewables as well as oil, coal and natural gas. There is limited support for phasing out the use of fossil fuels altogether. And the public is closely divided over the idea of phasing out the production of gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

Partisan gaps in views of climate change remain vast – from the salience of the issue to the role for government addressing it. And divisions over renewable energy and stricter environmental regulations are wider today than they were under Donald Trump’s administration, due to increased opposition among Republicans.

But meaningful generational differences over the need for climate action, and engagement with the issue, stand alongside these partisan divisions. Younger activists are often at the forefront of the climate debate, with voices such as those of Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement – a youth-led political organization urging increased attention to climate change – among the most visible in global conversations advocating climate action.

Younger Americans – Millennials and adults in Generation Z – stand out in a new Pew Research Center survey particularly for their high levels of engagement with the issue of climate change. Compared with older adults, Gen Zers and Millennials are talking more about the need for action on climate change; among social media users, they are seeing more climate change content online; and they are doing more to get involved with the issue through activities such as volunteering and attending rallies and protests.

(Video) Gen Z: The Future of the Planet

While many forms of political engagement – such as voting – tend to be higher among older adults, 32% of Gen Zers and 28% of Millennials have taken at least one of four actions (donating money, contacting an elected official, volunteering or attending a rally) to help address climate change in the last year, compared with smaller shares of Gen X (23%) and Baby Boomer and older adults (21%).

The survey finds that, when asked about engaging with climate change content online, those in Gen Z are particularly likely to express anxiety about the future. Among social media users, nearly seven-in-ten Gen Zers (69%) say they felt anxious about the future the most recent time they saw content about addressing climate change. A smaller majority (59%) of Millennial social media users report feeling this way the last time they saw climate change content; fewer than half of Gen X (46%) and Baby Boomer and older (41%) social media users say the same.

Anxiety about the future also is a predominant emotional reaction to climate change content among those who are most engaged with the issue on social platforms (those who follow a climate-focused account, interact with, post or share climate content themselves). Majorities of these climate-engaged social media users report feeling angry that not enough is being done when encountering climate change content online; but large shares also say they feel motivated to learn more and confident in the ability to reduce the effects of climate change.

As a group, larger shares of younger adults identify with, or lean toward, the Democratic Party than the GOP. But generational differences in climate change attitudes and behaviors are not simply a reflection of the Democratic orientation of younger adults. In fact, among Republicans, generational differences in views are often quite pronounced. For example, 49% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennial Republicans (including Republican leaners) say action to reduce the effects of climate change needs to be prioritized today, even if that means fewer resources to deal with other important problems; significantly fewer Gen X (37%) and Baby Boomer and older (26%) Republicans say the same.

Attitudinal differences by generation among Democrats are less common, as large shares prioritize climate action and back policies to help reduce climate impacts. Still, younger Democrats are more likely than older Democrats to be talking about the need for action on climate change and to have been personally encouraged to become more involved. And on the policy front, Gen Z and Millennial Democrats express more openness to breaking with fossil fuels entirely than Gen X and Baby Boomer and older Democrats.

The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 20 to 29 among 13,749 U.S. adults, including 912 Gen Z adults, finds a majority of Americans (64%) say efforts to reduce the effects of climate change need to be prioritized today to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations, even if it means fewer resources for addressing other important problems; far fewer (34%) say climate change should be a lower priority, given other important problems facing Americans today.

In line with the public’s view that climate change should be addressed today, majorities believe a range of public and private actors are not doing enough to help reduce climate impacts. More than six-in-ten Americans say large businesses and corporations (69%) and the energy industry (62%) are doing too little to address climate change. Such critiques extend beyond industry: Two-thirds say ordinary Americans are doing too little to help reduce the effects of climate change. Consistent with past Center surveys, majorities also say the federal government is doing too little across a range of environmental concerns – such as protecting air and water quality – and 59% see it as doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.

(Video) Keeping The Momentum - Engaging Gen-Z in Climate Action and Activism

Despite ongoing support for prioritizing alternative energy, nearly two-thirds of U.S. public opposes phasing out fossil fuels; closely divided over phasing out gas-powered cars

There are limits to how far the public is willing to go on climate and energy policy, especially when it comes to breaking with fossil fuels, a potential shift that gained increased attention during the global drop in carbon emissions in 2020 that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most Americans (71%) continue to say the U.S. should prioritize development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, over expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas. And there is strong policy support for tougher restrictions on power plant carbon emissions, as well as for higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

But the public is cool to the idea of phasing out fossil fuels from the country’s energy supply altogether and closely divided over transitioning away from gas-powered cars.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say the U.S. should use a mix of energy sources going forward – including oil, coal and natural gas, along with renewables; far fewer (33%) support phasing out fossil fuels entirely. By 51% to 47%, a slightly larger share of Americans oppose than favor phasing out the production of new gasoline cars and trucks by 2035 – a proposal that has been put forward by governors in 12 states, including California and New York. Phasing out gas-powered vehicles is one of several measures the International Energy Association says will be needed to reach net-zero emissions globally.

The views of Gen Zers and Millennials are distinct from those of older adults over the use of fossil fuels. Majorities of Gen Zers (56%) and Millennials (57%) favor phasing out new gasoline cars and trucks by the year 2035; by contrast, majorities of Gen X (53%) and Baby Boomer and older adults (59%) oppose this idea. And while adults across generations are inclined to use a mix of sources to meet the country’s energy needs, support for phasing out the use of oil, coal and natural gas is significantly higher among Gen Zers and Millennials (43% and 42%, respectively) than among Gen X (32%) and Baby Boomer and older adults (25%).

Broad support among U.S. adults for key elements in Biden’s infrastructure plan; half say it would help the U.S. economy

The Biden administration signaled a focus on climate change since taking office, calling it a profound crisis. The new Center survey finds majorities of Americans support a number of proposals to address climate change, including three specific elements in Biden’s infrastructure plan.

More than seven-in-ten Americans (74%) support a proposal to require power companies to increase their reliance on renewable energy sources in order to reduce carbon emissions. A smaller majority (62%) backs federal spending to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country in order to increase the use of electric cars and trucks. And a similar share (63%) supports raising corporate taxes to pay for more energy efficient buildings and improved roads, a key funding mechanism in Biden’s infrastructure proposal.

(Video) Leah Thomas and Hannah Estrada on How To Manage Climate Anxiety

On the question of the economic benefits – or costs – of Biden’s infrastructure plan, 50% of U.S. adults think the plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure in ways that are aimed at reducing the effects of climate change will help the economy, while fewer (30%) think it will hurt the economy; 18% say it will make no difference.

As expected, there are sharp partisan divisions over these proposals and their likely economic impact: 78% of Democrats think the Biden administration plan will help the U.S. economy, while a majority of Republicans (59%) say the opposite and expect it to hurt the economy.

The roughly three-in-ten Americans most concerned about climate change differ widely from other Americans in their beliefs, priorities for climate policy

The survey provides a detailed look at the 31% of Americans for whom climate change is a top personal concern. This group is distinct in their views on climate from the 30% of Americans who say that climate change is not important to them personally, as well as from the 39% who call it one of several issues – but not a top issue – they care about.

For example, those with a strong personal concern about climate are much more likely than other groups to say human activity contributes “a great deal” to climate change, to believe climate scientists understand the phenomenon “very well” and to say climate scientists have too little influence on policy.

This group also stands out for their priorities in thinking about climate policy. Those most concerned about climate change are particularly likely to say protecting the quality of the environment for future generations (89%), getting the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible (67%) and making sure proposals help lower-income communities (65%) are very important considerations to them in climate policy proposals.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • A narrow majority in U.S. say climate scientists have too little influence on climate policy debates. Overall, 54% of Americans say that climate scientists have too little influence on related policy decisions, 22% say they have about the right amount and another 22% say they have too much influence. Democrats (77%) are far more likely than Republicans (27%) to say that climate scientists have too little influence on climate policy debates.
  • Majorities of Black (68%) and Hispanic (55%) adults prioritize help for lower-income communities when considering climate policy proposals. A smaller share of White adults (38%) say helping lower-income areas is a very important consideration to them in climate proposals. Middle- and upper-income Black adults are about as likely as lower-income Black adults (70% and 66%, respectively) to say this is very important to them. Similarly, there are no differences on this question between middle/upper-income Hispanic adults and those with lower incomes (54% vs. 57%, respectively).
  • Half of Americans say they have experienced extreme weather over the past year. Three-quarters of U.S. adults support a proposal to change building standards so that new construction will better withstand extreme weather; 23% say this is a bad idea because it could increase costs and cause delays in important projects. Those who say they have experienced extreme weather events are more likely than those who have not to consider it a good idea to change building codes, though majorities of both express this view.
  • Republicans’ views on energy issues have shifted compared with a year ago, leading to wider political divides between the parties. Republican support for expanding wind and solar power, while still a majority, has decreased 13 and 11 percentage points, respectively, compared with a year ago when Trump was in office. The shares of Republicans and Republican leaners who support expanding hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas (up 10 points), offshore oil and gas drilling (up 6 points) and coal mining (up 6 points) have risen over the same period. Even so, younger Republicans remain less likely than their older counterparts to support expanding fossil fuel sources, consistent with past Center surveys.

FAQs

What issues are Gen Z facing? ›

Inflation is the top problem Gen Z and Millennials name as the biggest they are facing today. Over-dependence and addiction to technology ranked second as the top problem among young people for the first time. However, racism and COVID-19 are still top concerns for these gens.

Does Gen Z care more about the environment? ›

A study by Deloitte found in 2021, climate change and environmental issues were the top concern for Generation Z. Unemployment and health care ranked second and third. For millennials, health care ranked first, unemployment was second and environmental concerns third.

Are Gen Z more socially aware? ›

But Gen Z is also widely known as the most socially-conscious generation, notorious for pressuring brands to set intentional standards for environmental consciousness and social impact.

How can social media help climate change? ›

Social media obviously played a significant role in helping humans communicate, including spreading knowledge about the danger of climate change. With the growing number of climate movements and actions, the messages could create more awareness and reach the policymakers.

How is Gen Z affected by social media? ›

I've seen firsthand how social media has affected my generation. We are the first true digital natives, and we are the ones paying the price. A recent ORIGIN study found that 48% of Gen-Z respondents said social media makes them feel anxious, sad or depressed and that 58% are seeking relief from social media.

How are Gen Z negatively affected by social media? ›

Key points. Compulsive social media use is rampant among teenagers and college students, and they're now aware how bad it is for their psyche. Heavy social media use has been linked with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, poor sleep, lack of motivation, and poor social skills.

What is Gen Z doing for the environment? ›

According to Deloitte, Gen Z is adopting more sustainable behaviors than any other group: 50% reduced how much they buy, and 45% stopped purchasing certain brands because of sustainability or ethics concerns.

What are the biggest concerns of Gen Z? ›

70% of Gen Z say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers. ² 30% of parents surveyed felt that their child was experiencing negative effects on their emotional or mental health due to social distancing and school closures. ⁷

Do Gen Z and millennials care about sustainability? ›

Because three-quarters of Gen Z consumers state that sustainability is more important to them than brand names. According to Nielsen, 75% of Millennials are eco-conscious to the point of changing their buying habits to favor environmentally-friendly products.

Why does Gen Z care about sustainability? ›

For Gen Z, sustainability is not just black and white. They understand that climate change is a universal concern and environmental justice is about saving the planet by saving people.

What did Gen Z contribute to society? ›

Generation Z is also well known for using FaceTime instead of texting or calling, unlike previous generations and their utilization of social media and digital services. Generation Z truly live and breathe the virtual connection life, and it's extremely common to see them becoming social and product influencers.

Which generation is most environmentally conscious? ›

Generation Z shows the most concern for the planet's well-being and influences others to make sustainability-first buying decisions, according to new research.

How does social media affect environmental issues? ›

Why would it be a bad thing? As scenic wilderness areas get more exposure on social media, it drives more traffic to those places. Increased visitor traffic can have many problems, including more erosion and more negative interactions with wildlife.

How can we motivate people to stop climate change? ›

Psychologists have a new way to make people act on climate change, regardless if they do not accept the underlying science.
  1. Appeal to what people already believe. ...
  2. Global surveys reveal common motivations. ...
  3. Accepting policies to tackle climate change. ...
  4. There may not always be a case for co-benefits. ...
  5. Scientific links.
6 Oct 2015

How do you engage Gen Z on social media? ›

Best Practices to Reach Gen-Z on TikTok
  1. Celebrate Diversity. Gen-Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation yet. ...
  2. Move Away from Labels. ...
  3. Sell a Lifestyle. ...
  4. Provide a Personalized Experience. ...
  5. Engage Frequently. ...
  6. Use Gamification. ...
  7. Partner with Influencers. ...
  8. Well-Curated Account.
17 Mar 2022

What generation is most affected by social media? ›

Generation Z

How social media has affected Millennials? ›

According to a survey from CreditCards.com from last week, 72 percent of millennials say social media impacts their buying decisions. This is the most likely age group to be influenced by social media in their spending, followed by 66 percent of Gen-Z, 49 percent of Gen X and 45 percent of baby boomers.

What generation is influenced the most by social media? ›

But the shocking report was baby boomers were more active on social media, and 84% of the boomers stated that the internet had revamped their lives. However, boomers are not so efficient in technology as they didn't grow up using the internet.

Why Gen Z will change the way we work? ›

What's more, this generation prioritize jobs where they can expand their skills and broaden their talents and experience. This means that employers will need to change how they attract, hire, develop and retain talent, fostering personal development. And that could have knock-on benefits for any generation.

What motivates Millennials and Gen Z? ›

Millennials value work-life balance; Gen Zers value salary and career advancement. Generation Z tends to be more financially motivated than Gen Y.

How Gen Z improves learning environment? ›

Learning by doing

Not only do they find hands-on learning to be more effective, but Gen Zers also say it can help make learning more fun and interactive. It's no wonder that 64 percent rank interactive classroom discussions and 60 percent rank working through problems as the most helpful tools for learning.

What issues do millennials care about? ›

Transportation and connectivity (42.8%) Climate change (36.8%) Mental health (33.5%) Public health (30.9%)

What is the most important issue your generation is facing? ›

One of the biggest threats to our generation (and future generations) is the deterioration of the environment. Since this issue affects everyone, there must be more urgency in our communities to help the environment. This is an enormous problem for one person to change, so working in community is essential.

Why Gen Z is a better generation? ›

Gen Z is also the smartest and best educated generation. Having an unlimited wealth of information at our disposal has not gone to waste. In America, 57 percent of Gen Z is reported to have enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 52 percent of Millenials and 43 percent of Gen X.

What are Millennials attitudes to sustainability practices? ›

According to Nielsen, 75 percent of Millennials (those born between 1981-1996) are eco-conscious to the point of changing their buying habits to favor environmentally friendly products.

How do Millennials feel about sustainability? ›

Around 53% of Gen Z and Millennials are well-aware of the importance of sustainability when making purchase decisions. Consumers are conscious of the need to drive positive social and environmental outcomes. Around 68% of consumers thus expect companies or organizations to steer such impactful actions.

How Gen Z is changing the economy? ›

Gen Z isn't taking inflation and the higher cost of living sitting down. Currently, 75% of Gen Z are taking or considering steps to earn additional income including: changing jobs (34%), turning a passion into a source of income (31%), taking on a second job (26%) or even a job they don't like (23%).

What will Gen Z be remembered for? ›

Gen Z are not 'coddled. ' They are highly collaborative, self-reliant and pragmatic, according to new Stanford-affiliated research. Generation Z, the first generation never to know the world without the internet, value diversity and finding their own unique identities, says Stanford scholar Roberta Katz.

What is misunderstood about Gen Z? ›

There are few demographic groups that are as misunderstood as Gen Z. Some people think they're entitled, and others think they're lazy.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Gen Z? ›

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Generation Z? Gen Z are technologically savvy and adapt quicker than most. 72% of Gen Z are creative and want to start a business. Gen Z can at times be more cynical and 25% of Gen Z believe they should only stay in a job for a year or less.

How are Gen Z different from Millennials? ›

Gen Zs are Tech Natives

Millennials were born in a world without the prevalence of social media platforms and computer technology. They witnessed the evolution of this type of technology. On the other hand, Gen Zs were born and raised immersed in this technology. This difference is a double-edged sword.

How has Gen Z been affected by technology? ›

As the first true generation of digital natives, Gen Zers have never known what it's like not to have round-the-clock access to the internet. As a result, they expect on-demand information, streaming entertainment, and instantaneous communication in nearly every aspect of their lives.

What values are most important to Gen Z? ›

Core Brand Values That Attract Gen Z

To attract Gen Z, brands must highlight their commitment to societal challenges such as diversity, environmentalism, sustainability, climate change and world hunger.

Which generation is most passionate about environment? ›

According to a Pew Research poll conducted last year among American adults, Gen Zs are by far the most concerned about climate change.

Are Millennials willing to pay more for sustainable products? ›

In fact, consumers across all generations—from Baby Boomers to Gen Z—are now willing to spend more for sustainable products.

How media influence environmental issues? ›

Many studies have shown that media magnify people's perception of environmental risk, which in turn affects people's pro-environmental behaviors. Zeng et al. [39] believes that new media is more capable of amplifying people's perception of environmental risks.

What are 5 negative effects of social media? ›

Social media harms

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.

What is the role of media in environmental issues? ›

Role of media for environmental awareness

Media can report and educate people about certain forces and activities that adversely affect our environment; Conservation of natural resources -Our primary target is not only controlling the wastage of various sources of energy like oil, gas, coal, etc.

What are the 3 solutions to climate change? ›

Some of the most promising ways to mitigate climate change are what we call “natural climate solutions”: the conservation, restoration, and improved management of land, in order to increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse-gas emissions in landscapes worldwide.

How do you convince someone to care about climate change? ›

What to Say to Someone Who Doesn't Care About the Environment
  1. Let Your Actions Speak For Themselves.
  2. Share Videos, Photos & Posts on Social Media.
  3. Invite Someone to go Bulk Shopping with You or to the Farmers Market.
  4. Talk to a Loved One About Climate Change.
  5. Ask Your Parents About Climate Change & Discuss.
30 Nov 2021

What is the biggest way to stop climate change? ›

Start with these ten actions!
  1. Save energy at home. Much of our electricity and heat are powered by coal, oil and gas. ...
  2. Walk, bike, or take public transport. ...
  3. Eat more vegetables. ...
  4. Consider your travel. ...
  5. Throw away less food. ...
  6. Reduce, reuse, repair & recycle. ...
  7. Change your home's source of energy. ...
  8. Switch to an electric vehicle.

Can social media help to save the environment? ›

People are using social media nowadays to support environmental campaigns and to connect people locally and globally on minor to major environmental issues. It also provides ordinary people with the ability to track the quality of the air, water, climate around them, and then share this data with others.

Has social media been a positive or negative influence on society? ›

It can help individuals connect and deepen their relationships. Social media also encourages students to learn and grow. And it can empower businesses to build their audiences and boost their bottom line. The positive effects of social media are plentiful.

What positive change can you make using social media? ›

Social media provides many avenues for people to connect to issues like never before. Not only can users discover posts about such issues and make and share posts themselves, they have the opportunity to follow and engage with organizations, nonprofits, and other groups that exist to tackle these issues on the ground.

What is important to millennials and Gen Z? ›

The Deloitte and Robin surveys both show that Gen Z and millennials want a better work-life balance, better learning and development opportunities, improved mental health and wellness support, and a greater commitment from businesses to make a positive societal impact.

What are the top 10 issues facing our youth today? ›

  • Depression.
  • Sexual Activity.
  • Drug Use.
  • Alcohol Use.
  • Obesity.
  • Academic Problems.
  • Peer Pressure.
  • Social Media.
20 Sept 2022

What is the biggest problem facing the youth today? ›

Stress & Time Management. Managing the pressure to succeed in every area of life and finding time to do it all seems to be one of the biggest challenges facing the youth today. Young people are expected to be successful, yet few of them are aware of effective time management.

What topics are Gen Z most interested in? ›

Seven issues have commanded the attention of Generation Z so far. These are: 1) health care; 2) mental health; 3) higher education; 4) economic security; 5) civic engagement; 6) race equity; and 7) the environment.

What's Trending with Gen Z right now? ›

Social media is a huge trend for this generation. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are, by far, the most frequently used platforms. One-quarter of Gen Zers spend five hours or more per day on TikTok. TikTok continues to soar in popularity among members of Generation Z (8,800% in 5 years).

Videos

1. What Makes "Generation Z" So Different? | Harry Beard | TEDxAstonUniversity
(TEDx Talks)
2. Evan Thomas - How Gen Z is Changing the Social Media and Digital Marketing Playbook
(Evan Thomas)
3. Gen Z and Millennials React to Climate Movies | Earth Month | Netflix
(Netflix Film)
4. Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace
(David Crossman)
5. How Social Media Is Changing Social Networks, Group Dynamics, Democracies, & Gen Z -Jonathan Haidt
(American Group Psychotherapy Association - AGPA)
6. TikTok & Gen Z: From Viral Dance Videos to Social Media Activism
(CyberWise)
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