Could this be the global-warming generation?
Live Earth concerts in eight countries hope to inspire action. Will it work?
(Page 2 of 2)
Ursula Wolsoncraft, a 28-year-old project administrator in Sydney, says she encounters a similar attitude among her generation of Australians. "They feel climate change is such a big problem they have no control over it," she explains.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That is where "Live Earth" hopes to make a difference, says Ms. Robinson. "People feel powerless," she acknowledges. "They wonder what they can do about a melting glacier. Part of "Live Earth" is to tell them, 'Hey, there is something you can do'."
Bring your own chopsticks
Concertgoers and TV viewers will be shown video clips and public service messages proposing scores of practical tips for cutting CO2 emissions, from turning off their computers at night in America to bringing their own chopsticks to restaurants in China, so as not to use the disposable wooden ones provided and thus save millions of trees.
In Fukuoka, Japan, English major Yuko Araki says she expects young Japanese to pay more attention to musicians than to politicians discredited by a string of scandals. "If popular artists send some message about environmental problems to young people they are sure to listen," she says.
How much they – and their peers in other industrial countries – will actually do, however, is unclear. A poll published Tuesday in Britain found that though 68 percent of respondents believe we are seeing climate change, 37 percent admitted to doing nothing at all about it.
"Most people seem to accept climate change but don't buy into it enough to translate into action," says Phil Downing, head of environmental research at IPSOS Mori, which conducted the poll. And though young people "seem to be the most concerned about climate change," he adds, "paradoxically they are the most likely to engage in behavior that's environmentally destructive like flying, buying plasma screens and fast cars."
While US high school students may not be indulging in such pastimes yet, they do not seem to care much about global warming. A poll last November by Hamilton College found that only 28 percent of American high school students think it is very likely that climate change will affect them personally in the future.
Generation Y: Seeks green employer
Their older brothers and sisters, however, think differently. "Generation Y is getting fired up about global warming," says Jeff Angel, director of the Total Environment Centre, a green advocacy group in Sydney. "There's a lot of evidence in Australia to show that young people look for employers with the right environmental credentials."
In America, too, "there has been an absolute explosion among young people whose main concerns are related to the environment," says James Pittman, who teaches Environmental Studies at Prescott College in Arizona. "They are concerned about their future and it is really starting to sink in."
Global warming "is the defining challenge of our generation," proclaims Billy Parish, a 25-year-old who dropped out of Yale to found Energy Action, a coalition of US universities and students seeking to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. "The window of time ... we have to solve this problem is a narrow one."
"Live Earth" is seeking to capitalize on that sort of attitude. "Today's generation has a decision to make, it has a choice," says John Hanawa, who works at the Beijing office of the UN Development Program, which is helping to organize the Shanghai concert. "That's why we have these events ... to get traction with young people."
If the strategy is not working so well in Rio, where "there has not been one article in the Brazilian press about the cause of the show, about global warming," complains environmental activist Sergio Ricardo, the sky is a little brighter elsewhere.
In China, for example, climate change has become a "hot topic" among young people in the past few months, says Mr. Hu, now that the government has begun to tackle the subject more frankly and opened it for public debate. "It is almost like trying to be green is some sort of fashion," adds Mr. Ma.
In South Africa, where young people have been at the forefront of protests to win better public services in the townships and for new government policies on HIV/AIDS, global warming could be the next big youth cause, says John Langford who is organizing the Johannesburg concert.
"While "Live Earth" might be another step in a long-running campaign against global warming in the US and Europe, here it could be the launch of a broad social movement," Mr. Langford predicts.
• Written and reported by Peter Ford in Beijing. Reported by Nick Squires in Sydney, Takehiko Kambayashi in Tokyo, Jude Blanchette in Shanghai, China, Stephanie Hanes in Johannesburg, South Africa, Yigal Schleifer in Istanbul, Turkey, Mark Rice-Oxley in London, Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, and Tony Azios in Boston.