A new research paper by CAST Associate Director Professor Wouter Poortinga and co-authors Dr Christina Demski and Dr Katharine Steentjes: ‘Generational differences in climate-related beliefs, risk perceptions and emotions in the UK’ examining differences in attitudes towards climate change, reveals younger people experience more fear, guilt and outrage over the impact of climate change
This new one-of-a-kind study from CAST’s Professor Wouter Poortinga and co-authors Dr Christina Demski and Dr Katharine Steentjes, conducted at our partner Cardiff University, reveals that Millennials and Gen-Z experience more fear, guilt and outrage over the impact of climate change compared to their older counterparts in Gen-X, baby boomers and post-war groups.
Key findings from the research, informed by CAST’s annual surveys from 2020-22 which provided valuable insights into public perceptions of climate change, also include that despite the disparate differences in generations’ emotions related to climate change, understanding and perceived impacts of the crisis were more similar.
Lead author, CAST Associate Director Professor Wouter Poortinga, based at our partner Cardiff University, said: “It is widely believed that younger generations are more engaged with climate change than older generations, but that has never been studied systematically.
“In our study, we found an overall pattern of higher levels of climate-related beliefs, risks perceptions and emotions among younger generation groups.
“However, the gap between generations about climate change is mainly in their emotional responses to climate change, rather than in beliefs about climate change. For example, there are no generational differences in beliefs in the causes and impacts of climate change, although older age groups are more likely to think that we are already feeling the effects of climate change.”
“We have to be careful not to put the onus on younger generations to solve climate change. Older generations have a responsibility to take action now to mitigate climate change for future generations.”Prof. Wouter Poortinga
Our team of CAST researchers who were behind the UK-wide study say that these contrasting emotional responses regarding climate change could be linked to why younger generations demonstrate higher levels of activism and engagement with the global issue. However, the strong emotions felt by the younger generations can have a heavy impact on their well-being, despite acting as a significant driver of climate action.
“While there is widespread awareness of climate change across all generations, younger generations feel much more threatened by it and have stronger emotional reactions. That is not completely surprising, given that younger generations will feel the brunt of the impacts of climate change, more so than older generations,” said Professor Wouter Poortinga.
“We have to be careful not to put the onus on younger generations to solve climate change. Older generations have a responsibility to take action now to mitigate climate change for future generations,” Wouter adds.
Read the research paper and find out more about Wouter’s research at CAST and follow him on Twitter for the latest updates. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter for future updates from the CAST team.
More about Prof. Wouter Poortinga
Professor Wouter Poortinga is based at Cardiff University and is the Associate Director of the CAST centre. He is co-lead of Theme 3 (trialling) together with Dr Stuart Capstick and will be primarily working on community and household change (Project 3.2). Wouter will also focus on habit disruption and ‘moments of change’ to examine how change in individuals and communities occurs (Project 2.3).
View Wouter’s Cardiff University profile.