WASHINGTON — THE single biggest social concern American youths expect to face as adults is the legacy of environmental degradation left to them by their parents, a new poll of American children shows.
An environmental generation gap, in which children's concern for the planet far outstrips their parents, is fostering a whole new generation of activism, says Washington pollster Peter D. Hart.
Survey data suggest that children's gloomy outlook on the environment - trailed distantly by concerns about drugs, education, homelessness, and the economy - appears to be tempered by a spirit of feeling they can make a difference, says Debbie Klingender, an analyst with Mr. Hart's firm.
The poll of 880 youths, aged 11 to 18, and 411 parents is part of research exploring the best course of direction for a new World Wildlife Fund conservation education program.
American youngsters are leading influences in household behavioral changes, the survey suggests.
Parents and youths both confirmed that more than anything else - including issues like wearing seat belts, smoking, drinking alcohol, and having a proper diet - children lobby their parents to recycle and to buy environmentally responsible products. More than half of the youths said they try to influence their parents on these two issues.
Recycling, and to a lesser extent littering and pollution, appear to be the key totems of children's view of environmentalism, the poll shows.
But this reveals a simplistic view of ecology, says Rich Block, director of public programs for the World Wildlife Fund.
"Recycling as the capstone of environmentalism is hardly the final effort the individual can make," Mr. Block says. "There is a more sophisticated view, going beyond recycling to get the bigger picture" of the ecological connections and the importance of maintaining biological diversity, he says.