The Children’s Crusade

Steven Dubner asks whether children are responsible for the recent explosion of environmental concern.

He’s got a point. As well as the decidedly non-secular holiday of Earth Day, which appears to be celebrated at every public school in the US, my daughter’s Brownie troop was assigned a project recently to learn about a foreign country. As well as learning about famous people, landmarks and so on, they had to tell the other Brownies “how they are green.” Hmmmm.

Yet this example of pester power at work would also help explain one phenomenon that is infuriating to the environmental movement. Consistently, Americans have said they are concerned about global warming, but when asked to rank it among urgent issues that action must be taken on, they rank it next to or right at the bottom. For instance, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll in January found it ranked right at the bottom, tied with “making the Bush tax cuts permanent.” Even a minority of Democrat supporters called it a “top priority.” I suspect this is compatible with an agenda in the household set by people who don’t have to make the hard decisions.

What will be interesting is how this translates as these children leave school and start having to square living a “sustainable” life with working for a living and having to satisfy other needs. Perhaps they will put a higher value on the environment than their parents (and if prosperity continues to increase, I think this is going to happen in any event), but if times get hard as a direct result of environmental policy, then the choices made will be very interesting.

Cross-posted from The Really Inconvenient Blog.