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Earth Hour involving younger environmentalists, part of larger demographic trend

Earth Hour involving younger environmentalists, part of larger demographic trend

This is a period marked by distinct shifts in demographics and attitudes when it comes to the environment, said Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), in a story about Earth Hour in the Toronto Star March 25:

For one thing, those most heavily engaged in environmentalism have become significantly younger – from middle-aged mothers with higher incomes and education in the ’90s, to adolescents and university students today, Winfield says. And that means increased involvement in an age bracket where traditionally there has been little. “This constituency is very important because it’s a whole new generation that is carrying these values forward.”

It’s in part because of this that Earth Hour has become an international phenomenon since launching in 2007 in Australia.

This year will be another record-setting event for organizers, as 1,100 cities in 110 countries have signed on to the event – 100 cities and 22 countries more than last year. It’s a testament to how broad-based support has become for the environment, experts say.

So much so that sorting our garbage in several ways has become part of our normal, everyday routine in Canada – an act of “complex social behaviour” that amazes visitors from other countries, Winfield says. “What’s happening with each successive wave is that the environment is becoming more embedded in our public consciousness.”

To knowingly pollute and show little concern for the environment has become a secular sin, Winfield says. As former US vice-president Al Gore preached in An Inconvenient Truth, it has now become a moral imperative to take care of the planet.

You see it in grocery store lineups, where customers with reusable cloth bags are slowly outnumbering those without. It’s a subtle shift, driven by peer pressure. “These values have become so deeply embedded that if you’re not recycling, your neighbours will look down on you,” Winfield says. “Those are very powerful drivers.”

Similarly, while the environment traditionally falls off the radar during economic downturns, polls show it has endured as a priority during the latest recession.

But the current wave of public support doesn’t impress Professor Catriona Sandilands,  Canada Research Chair in Sustainability & Culture in FES. It means little if it doesn’t translate into constructive public policy, she says. “There’s public anxiety over global warming, but the question is, will this mean any long-lasting presence? I’m less optimistic.”

The climate change talks in Copenhagen were a dismal failure, she says, and Canada has been rebuked globally for being an environmental laggard and an obstacle to progress. Moreover, there’s been no movement to curtail the tar sands, which she calls a gargantuan blight on our environmental record.

Republished courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.