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The Attitudes of Young People to the Environment

Australia Institute Webpaper May 2005 Richard Denniss

In recent years the scientific evidence supporting the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other major environmental pollutants has increased (see for example IPCC 2001), yet Australians’ stated level of concern for the condition of the natural environment has decreased. For example, while the majority of Australians (57 per cent) admit that they are worried about environmental problems, this has fallen from 75 per cent in 1992 (ABS 2004). This paper focuses in particular on the relative lack of concern expressed by younger Australians with the need to protect the natural environment. New polling data, discussed below, shows that young Australians are among the least concerned group in Australia. Young people and their concern for the environment It is often suggested that the increased attention paid to the state of the natural environment in the media and school curricula is resulting in the creation of a particularly environmentally aware cohort of younger Australians. In addition to a higher degree of awareness, the fact that younger Australians will inherit the environmental degradation of today suggests that, if nothing else, self interest should encourage them to be more concerned than older generations about the need to repair the environment. A number of studies provide some evidence to support the proposition that young Australians are concerned about the environment (Manning and Ryan 2004; Mission Australia 2004). But these papers fail to provide data on the relative level of concern for the environment among different age cohorts. This paper draws on data collected by Roy Morgan Research from 56 344 respondents aged 14 and over across Australia. The data were collected in face-to-face interviews during the period October 2003 to September 2004 and allow comparisons of the views of younger Australians with those of other age groups. As shown...