Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Dana Nuccitelli, climate “denial” will end when the current generation of “deniers” die off. But Nuccitelli glosses over why older people are so skeptical of climate claims.
A generation gap, when it comes to climate change?
By Dana Nuccitelli, March 15, 2019
(Editor’s Note: Judging from recent letters to the editor, there seem to be a lot of young people who will be skipping class today to go on strike against climate change. And a lot of older people who are accusing them of just wanting an excuse to walk out of school on a Friday. It seems that there is a climate change generation gap going on. So we thought this would be a good time to re-print this 2016 article by climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli, about this little-acknowledged angle to the climate change discussion.)
A record number of Americans now view global warming as a serious threatand blame human activities as the cause. But there is apparently a generation gap out there when it comes to accepting the scientific evidence. And an ethnic gap, a gender gap, and a gap in political leaning—along with whether one can be considered one of society’s “haves” or “have nots.” So, who are these climate deniers? What is their profile?
A June 2014 Washington Post-ABC News poll asked a nationally representative sample of American respondents several questions about their support for climate policies. Specifically, those surveyed were asked whether they would be in favor of government greenhouse gas regulations that increased their monthly energy expenses by $20 per month. Overall, 63 percent of respondents expressed support for the proposed policy, including 51 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats.
Interestingly, there was a significant age gap among the responses. For Democrats under age 40, support for the policy proposal was 78 percent, as compared to 62 percent over age 65. Among Republicans, 61 percent under age 50 supported the proposed regulations, as compared to 44 percent over age 50. According to a Pew Research Center survey, younger Americans are also more likely to correctly answer that the planet is warming and that this warming is primarily due to human activities.
The climate acceptance age gap. Unfortunately, there’s been little research that investigates the causes of this age gap. It is tempting to speculate that perhaps younger minds are more open to new ideas—such as the potential for humans to alter something as large and complex as the Earth’s climate, ushering in a new “Anthropocene” geological epoch. Perhaps our educational system is succeeding in teaching these concepts to younger generations.
Climate denial caters to a small and dwindling population of old, white, conservative, American men. As with global temperatures, American acceptance of and concern about human-caused climate change is currently at record levels, and is certain to keep rising in the long-term.Read more: https://thebulletin.org/2019/03/a-generation-gap-when-it-comes-to-climate-change/
The cutoff at age 40 seems to be quite sharp – a 17% difference for Republicans, 16% for Democrats. Although Democrat belief in climate alarm is stronger, the difference is almost as pronounced amongst Democrats as it is amongst Republicans.
One possible explanation for the skepticism amongst older people is the 1970s global cooling scare.
In 1978, Leonard Nimoy‘s iconic documentary “In Search of – The Coming Ice Age” aired on TVs across the world. I clearly remember seeing it on TV in Australia, my parents were worried about global cooling, everyone was talking about it.
Nimoy’s “In Search Of” series was wildly popular at the time, the Ice Age episode was arguably the most talked about episode of the entire series.
1978 was just over 40 years ago.
Older people are more skeptical because we’ve heard this nonsense before – but with the plot reversed, with human induced global cooling the villain, rather than global warming.
Nuccitelli wonders why there has been “little research that investigates the causes of this gap”, why older people’s lack of acceptance of climate messages hasn’t received more attention – though Dana leaps to the conclusion that the the skeptic demographic is ageing, despite not understanding the reasons for their skepticism.
It seems implausible that the gap has received so little attention, given the strong political motivation to increase acceptance of the need for more taxes to save the planet. More likely researchers know what the problem is, and don’t want to draw attention to it.
What does this mean for the future? Given climate scientists’ track record of disappointment with their defective predictions, I suspect the younger generation’s “In Search of” moment is rapidly approaching, at least for the older members of that demographic. Years of watching corrupt politicians trouser political donations from friends who are recipients of government climate subsidies and loan guarantees, and failed scientific prediction after failed prediction, can wear at even the most accepting minds.