Ecology: the many faces of young people from the “climate generation”

What if the “climate generation” did not exist? Or rather: what if this youth that is said to have been transformed in a massive way by ecology, since the steps of 2018, showed a much more contrasted face?

This is the conclusion of an unprecedented study conducted exclusively for The cross by the group of researchers Critical Quantity, with young people aged 16 to 30, in the spring of 2021. Beyond the “awareness” of the environmental crisis and its seriousness, which receive a majority of responses, these researchers have studied in depth the sensitivity and gaze of young people on ecology. In particular, they analyzed the values, social and political roots of respondents, such as their relationship to technology and the economy.

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The results, finer than those of classic polls, are edifying. And question certain hasty considerations, “Which conclude to the hegemony of the ecological cause in these age groups”, underlines Yann Le Lann, lecturer in sociology at the University of Lille and coordinator of the collective.

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Admittedly, the latter confirms “The historical movement” of ecological awareness of recent years in the different generations, and in particular the youngest. But he also underlines that among 16-30 year olds, there is no “Consensus on ecology”.

Frank opposition on solutions

The study distinguishes five distinct groups. The first three have fairly straightforward positions on the subject… but do not agree between them. First of all, we find the “eco-invested”, the most committed environmentalists, ie 18% of the sample: very concerned about the ecological crisis – and in particular the climate issues -, quick to “eco-friendly” in their lives. and go down to the street.

Ecology: the many faces of young people from the “climate generation”

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Fairly close on the diagnosis, but not on the solutions, we then find the “modernists” (19%). The latter also practice eco-gestures: they are more likely than average not to eat meat, to be attentive to their consumption and their movements. But unlike the “eco-invested”, very critical of technical progress, they strongly believe in the capitalist economy and technology to respond to the crisis.

Minority opponents

“In these two groups the level of consciousness is high. And yet, their conception of ecology is not the same, notes Yann Le Lann. Relations with technology and the market system are structuring points of opposition. “

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Another notch in the idea of ​​a homogeneous “climate generation”: the 3e group, that of the opponents, minority (6%) but not negligible. These respondents have little faith in the ecological crisis. They often even show hostility towards the climate movement. They do not practice eco-gestures and are distinguished by a “Territorialized conception of ecology” : the defense of landscapes (they are the least favorable to renewable energies), the artificialization of the soil, questions of cleanliness and hygiene.

A more distant majority

The last two groups represent, finally, the “bulk of the sample” (57%). Their positions are more diffuse and make them a distant majority in the environment – enough, again, to abuse a so-called consensus.

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On the one hand, the “distant supporters” (38%) have an ecological conscience but without “Practical translation”, neither from an individual point of view, nor from a collective point of view: little eco-gesture or mobilization. On the other hand, the “indifferent” (19%) are even less concerned, with little political or associative commitment in general. For researchers, this majority is the sign “That ecology does not necessarily structure political consciousness or practices” of the youth.

Ecology: the many faces of young people from the “climate generation”

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Other received ideas are also challenged. First, the idea that ecology is “neither on the right, nor on the left”. “Political ecology is anchored above all within the left”, note the authors. Among the “eco-invested” in particular: 34% say they are radical left, 36% center-left. Conversely, these sensitivities are under-represented among “opponents”. And to find a majority of right-wing respondents (51%), we have to turn to the “modernists”, who rely on growth and the market economy.

“Ecology of sores”?

Then, the idea of ​​a “bobo” ecology with, on one side privileged young people, having the luxury of worrying about it, and on the other, the most modest monopolized elsewhere. “In reality, social groups are divided on the issue, notes Yann Le Lann. Modernists, for example, are divided on the climate marches and on the figure of Greta Thunberg. “

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Among the most popular categories, there again, no generality possible. “There is a significant proportion of employees convinced by ecology in sectors such as culture, personal services or education”, he emphasizes.

Last salient point, finally: the high proportion of women in the groups most committed to the subject. “We can make several assumptions, continues the researcher. One of them is that women, who are still more involved in domestic work and working with children today, are more concerned with health and pollution issues. “

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An unprecedented survey

The collective of researchers Critical quantity conducted the “youth and ecology” survey with a sample of 2,000 people, representative of the French population aged 16 to 30, on the Kantar profiles panel (and by the quota method).

These people were interviewed by self-administered online questionnaire, from April 8 to May 3, 2021.

Data analysis was done through a specific data mining method called ACM (Multiple Correspondence Analysis). It makes it possible to identify the responses that are found tendentially together in the same respondent.

The researchers explored the conceptions and the intensity of the relationship to the ecology of 16-30 year olds. They were interested in how these issues relate to the values ​​and political and social attachments of the respondents.

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