Study: Young people not so ‘green’ after all

• 5 to 10 percent “committed environmentalists.”

• 5 percent “anti-environment.” (These are the students who purposely avoid putting their trash in campus recycling bins, for instance.)

• 85 to 90 percent “open to protecting the environment and natural resources, but not leaders and not interested in being seriously inconvenienced or paying a cost to do so.”

“The last group is obviously the environmental educators’ potential gold mine,” said Niesenbaum, who directs the college’s sustainability studies program.

Twenge, the study’s lead author, is sometimes pegged as a critic of this generation because of her work about them. But the numbers speak for themselves, she said.

“I hope that young people see these findings as a challenge rather than a criticism,” she said, adding that the lack of interest in environmental issues isn’t exclusive to young people.

“This is a change in overall culture,” she said, “and young people reflect the changes in culture.”

The analysis was based on two long-term surveys of the nation’s youth. The first, the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project, is an annual survey of thousands of high school seniors, from which data from 1976 through 2008 was used.

Other data came from the American Freshman project, another large annual national survey, administered by the Higher Education Research Institute.

Those responses came from thousands of first-year college students, from the years 1966 through 2009. Because of the large sample sizes, the margin of error was less than plus-or-minus half a percentage point.