It’s a stat which is going to change the world.
Gen Z nearly unanimously believes in climate change. Not just that it is happening, but that it’s humans who are causing it.
Year13’s YouthSense research surveying over 1500 15 to 24-year-old’s from cities, towns and rural areas across Australia has found 96% of them believe in human-made climate change. The number is just a tick below the 97% of published climate scientists who agree that humans are mainly responsible for climate change. It’s clear their message has well and truly gotten through to Gen Z.
But it hasn’t gotten through to Australians as a whole. Gen Z’s views are radically different to the entire population. While 80% of Australians believe climate change is occurring, just two thirds believe it is caused mainly because of human activity according to The Australian Survey Into Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science, published by National Centre for Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) in June 2018.
We asked Gen Zs nationwide if they would work for a company they knew wasn’t making positive actions for the environment. 73% said they wouldn’t, while 27% said they would. Just about three quarters of the Gen Z workforce then are tying their work aspirations in with greater environmental concerns. For companies wanting to attract Gen Z’s top talent it’s clear that they’ll need to be carbon neutral or climate positive.
We received a flood of responses from Gen Zs worried about climate change. Some were suffering an existential crisis, questioning what’s the point of studying, saving and striving for their future if as they see it there isn’t going to be a future for them anyway. What stood out however was their determination to act to avert it. Be it living sustainably, protesting or working in areas of science, law and engineering to influence change on a grand scale, Gen Z are up for the fight.
A 16-year-old from Victoria made clear just how important climate change is for Gen Z.
“Climate Change – one of the most terrifying challenges my generation will face,” she said.
“And if people think I’m going to sit around and do nothing about it then they’re damn well wrong. I believe that I’m needed, as are other young people, to be in an industry that is conducting the research on climate change and how to adapt our world to a more sustainable future.
“The overwhelmingly scary concept of climate change and how our planet will progress is what motivates me the most – you have to pursue that thing that scares the absolute crap out of you!”
A 17-year-old from NSW said the biggest thing she’s worried about is the state of the world.
“Growing up with climate change looming over us, an exponentially increasing population and the threat of war and everything that goes along with that frankly scares the shit out of me,” she said.
“It’s hard to focus on my personal future when it feels like the world is collapsing around me. Part of the reason I want to be an engineer is to make a difference in the world, and I hope that going into that field will allow me to help people, and the planet in general.
“We really need to take a serious look at ourselves and the resources we’re wasting and it sickens me that so many politicians aren’t using their power to help.”
A 17-year-old from NSW had headed north to fight the recently approved Adani mine which will export coal to India.
“For the first two months of this year I lived under a tarp in Queensland where I spent every day fighting the Adani mine and building connections,” he said.
“Since then I have been voluntarily homeless, travelling around helping and organising environmental campaigns to disrupt the system and try to get some actual action on climate change.
“This year I have been beaten by police for trespassing, watched friends get fined upwards of $10,000 for blocking a multi-billion dollar company from pushing coal out and dooming our future, and I have been taken through the courts myself.
“I’m 17 and my whole life I’ve been told to stand by while corrupt systems of oppression put the nails in my generation’s coffin; so yes, yes I am worried, distressed, angry whatever you’d like to call it, but in my mind the question isn’t success, it’s survival.”
Such a strongly held generational view will have profound impacts on the world. Business, politics and the environment will all be revolutionised by Gen Z’s climate change solidarity. While it won’t happen overnight, in time their beliefs will take centre stage. When they do there’ll be no more hiding from the issue. There’ll be no more kicking the can down the road. No more shifting responsibility.
This is significant because Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. It contributes 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions while making up just 0.3% of the world’s population. The country’s emissions have risen for the past four years. A UN report says at this rate Australia won’t meet its Paris target of a 26%-28% cut to emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.
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“There has been no improvement in Australia’s climate policy since 2017 and emission levels for 2030 are projected to be well above the NDC (nationally determined contributions) target. The latest projection published by the government shows that emissions would remain at high levels rather than reducing in line with the 2030 target,” the report says.
It comes as a paper published last month paints an incredibly bleak scenario for humanity if action is not taken to reduce emissions this coming decade. The Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne said until now climate scientists have been too conservative in their predictions for the devastation climate change will cause.
In short it states with a three degree temperature rise by 2050 all the world’s ice sheets will melt flooding the Amazon rainforest killing its trees releasing its vast stores of carbon creating a feedback loop of hotter and deadlier conditions. Droughts, floods and bushfires will accelerate, one third of the Earth’s land will turn to desert, entire ecosystems will collapse and tropical countries will be ravaged destroying their agriculture creating one billion refugees.
“Thirty-five percent of the global land area, and 55 percent of the global population, are subject to more than 20 days a year of lethal heat conditions, beyond the threshold of human survivability,” the report says.
Mass-movement of refugees to other countries suffering their own food and water shortages will push societies to the extreme. Wars will arise over resources including potential nuclear conflicts. Outright chaos and potentially the end of humanity could then follow.
The way to prevent this?
Unified global action over the next decade the report says, a joint effort on the scale of World War II. Achieving zero carbon emissions the key to preventing disaster. With Gen Z students across the world taking part in the School Strike For Climate, it’s clear they have the will to do this, but not yet the power.
The paper was endorsed by Admiral Chris Barrie, a retired Australian defence chief and senior royal navy commander. He was part of a senate inquiry in 2018 into the effects of climate change on Australia’s national security.
“I told the Inquiry that, after nuclear war, human-induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet. Today’s 7.5 billion human beings are already the most predatory species that ever existed, yet the global population has yet to peak and may reach 10 billion people, with dire implications absent a fundamental change in human behaviour,” he writes.
He goes onto speak about young women already deciding to not have children and climate scientists becoming depressed at the prospects of climate change ahead. Then he turned his attention to “the outrage of schoolchildren over their parent’s irresponsibility in refusing to act on climate change.”
“As my colleague Professor Will Steffen has said of the climate challenge: ‘It’s not a technological or a scientific problem, it’s a question of humanities’ socio-political values… We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.’”
That tipping point is coming with Gen Z.
But will it be too late?
Grab a copy of our After The ATAR reports and find out everything you need to know about Gen Z.