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True to stereotype, Generation X apathetic about climate change

A survey of attitudes about global warming among Americans born between 1961 and 1981 shows declining interest in and knowledge of the topic.

By Wynne ParryLiveScience / July 20, 2012

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Gen Xers are surprisingly blasé about climate change.

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A survey in 2009 found members of Generation X were largely disengaged from climate change. Two years later, these American adults became slightly more so, a follow-up survey has revealed.

Americans in this age group generally are not well-informed about climate change, nor are they highly concerned about or paying much attention to it, both surveys indicated.

"We found a small but statistically significant decline between 2009 and 2011 in the level of attention and concern Generation X adults expressed about climate change," said researcher Jon Miller of the University of Michigan in a statement. "In 2009, about 22 percent said they followed the issue of climate change very or moderately closely. In 2011, only 16 percent said they did so."

The survey data comes from the university's Longitudinal Study of American Youth, which includes responses from approximately 4,000 Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981. Interestingly, this generation is the "most scientifically literate and best-educated generation in American history," Miller writes in his report, "Climate Change: Generation X Attitudes, Interest, and Understanding."

Miller said he was surprised by the lack of committed activists on either side of what is usually seen as a heated public debate over human-caused global warming. In 2011, the largest chunk of respondents, 67 percent, said they aren't certain global warming is happening. Meanwhile, 23 percent were concerned or alarmed, and at the other end, 10 percent are not worried or don't believe it is happening.

Better educated adults were more concerned about climate change, although 12 percent of those who ranked as highly scientifically literate were dismissive or doubtful.

Political affiliation also mattered. Zero conservative Republicans were alarmed, while only 10 percent were concerned. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of liberal Democrats were dismissive or doubtful.

Climate change is forecast to have dramatic long-term consequences that could affect future generations, including rising sea levels and more extreme weather, yet Gen Xers with children at home were not more concerned about global warming than those who did not.  

"Climate change is an extremely complex issue, and many Generation X adults do not see it as an immediate problem that they need to address," Miller said.

However, in the report, he writes, "We found that small segments of Generation X are actively engaged with this issue — more in support of the issue than opposed."

Follow Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_ParryorLiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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