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Will Gen Z be the one to save the environment?

More and more young people are showing up where it counts in the fight to save the environment, and it's starting to look like they are in it for the long haul.

At a time when many citizens seem to have given into despair, there are growing signs that Generation Z (born mid-1990’s through 2010) is picking up where previous generations left off or gave up. More and more young people are showing up where it counts in the fight to save the environment, and it’s starting to look like they are in it for the long haul.

Do they have what it takes to make lasting change in reversing the effects of pollution, excessive consumption and climate change? And can they do it on their own?

There’s little doubt that Generation Z has demonstrated inspiring displays of passion when it comes to climate change. After all, they will face the full impact of radical changes to our environment much more than the generations before them. Some even go far as to refer to them as “The Post-Apocalyptic Generation.”

One strong indication of Generation Z’s passion for solutions to climate change comes with their enthusiasm for Elon Musk’s company Tesla. They rate Tesla as one of the “coolest” companies on the planet. An example of this is the incredible surge of interest and enthusiasm amongst the young public for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and its famous Rocket Man passenger. Not since the days of NASA’s moon program have young people treated those involved with a space program like rock stars, and a lot of that has to do with Tesla’s progress and dedication in finding workable alternative energy solutions. Generation Z has also demonstrated lasting passion in other issues related to climate change like pollution, clean water, animal rights and land conservation.

In addition to being passionate about the key issues, it’s clear that Generation Z is actively thinking about the future, as well they should. The marketing research group Sparks and Honey discovered in a recent study that an impressive 26% of 16 to 19-year-olds are already engaged in their community in some way through volunteer work. They also found that social entrepreneurship is one of the leading career choices for this generation.

When it comes to climate change and the environment, many members of Generation Z are calling on national and global leaders to make the future of this planet a top priority. In a study presented to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2016, a survey entitled ‘Masdar Gen Z Global Sustainability Survey’ revealed the top priority of more than 5000 members of this generation spread across 20 countries. 40% reported climate change as their top priority, beating out the economy, terrorism, poverty, and unemployment. While 81% of them believe the private sector should lead the way in shifting to cleaner technology and 84% want governments to support alternative energy options, 59% members of this generation want to work in sustainability. The percentages of young people leaning towards careers in sustainability are even higher in emerging economies.

What matters though is whether this generation can make a meaningful impact and whether they will be able to do it before it is too late. Thankfully, there are already signs of progress around the world paving the way for Generation Z in many areas affecting climate change. For example, alternative energy production is already having a drastic impact in many industrial sectors with $286 billion invested globally in alternative energy sources versus $130 billion in fossil fuel production. Investments like this have a trickle-down effect throughout the private sector down and eventually lower the costs for personal consumption as well.

When it comes to generational shifts, it’s worth remembering that every new generation seems to resent previous generations for the state of their world. Likewise, it’s common for older generations to view our youngest citizens as entitled, self-centered, and naive. Neither of these old stories tends to serve greater society well, particularly when cross-generational solutions are needed.

While it is heartening to see the passion and engagement Generation Z has for climate change, we must remember that we are running out of time to get solutions into place. If Generation Z is to be indeed the generation credited with saving the environment, it will need to be with the help of companies, organizations, and governments full of engaged citizens of every age.

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