“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” Potosnak said. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”
A lot of young people also simply don’t spend that much time exploring nature, said Beth Christensen, a professor who heads the environmental studies professor at Adelphi University on New York’s Long Island.
When she attended Rutgers University in the 1980s, she said it was unusual to find a fellow student who hadn’t hiked and spent time in the woods.
“Now a lot of these students have very little experience with the unpaved world,” Christensen said.
So one of her goals is to get her students out into marshes and onto beaches—and even coral reefs in Australia—to help them connect with a natural world many have only seen on television.
Some of her students also volunteer with a group that cleans up trash in the bays that surround the island—one of many examples of young people who are taking environmental issues seriously.
At Babson College in Massachusetts, for instance, there is student housing called the “Green Tower,” where residents focus on conserving resources. It is a growing housing trend on many college campuses.
At Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, students are running a biodiesel plant on campus and building “permaculture,” or indefinitely sustainable, gardens in their back yards.
They’re less likely to write a letter to their member of Congress or to try to change things on a global level, said Richard Niesenbaum, a biology professor at Muhlenberg. They also don’t like to label themselves as “environmentalists.”
“In a lot of ways, they’re more pragmatic,” he said, roughly dividing his student body this way:
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