Are We Too Busy to Care About Nature?

Has it become a hassle to care for the environment? Or worse, has it actually become passé to care in the first place?

While the ’90s made environmentalism cool again, some statistics indicate that identifying as a greenie may have gone the way of the erstwhile high-waisted jean or Friends hair. Yes, according to a 2014 Pew survey, Millennials, don’t wanna be called environmentalists.

Symptoms of the enviro-blahs abound. The percentage of we the people who consider ourselves sympathetic to environmental issues fell from 55 to 41 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to an ongoing Gallup poll. The same poll reveals that public support for stricter pollution for businesses and industry shrank from 84 percent 65 percent from 2007 to 2014.

These blahs don’t just extend to policy and perception. They can have direct bearing on our actions, too—at least in the case of the National Geographic 2012 Greendex survey that found Americans are now least likely to use our own reusable bags, out of the 18 countries participating, which range from Argentina to Russia.

Does all this spell the end of our love affair with all things green? To help determine if we’ve just lost that lovin’ feeling, we invited John Barrett, JD, MA, interim executive director at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods and Kevin Ogrozalek, MS, of the Center for Humans and Nature to join us for this month’s EcoMyths segment on Worldview.

Smell Ya Later, Quick Conclusions!</h3

Thing about data is…there’s tons of it. Looking at any stat in isolation is like reading one Facebook status update and assuming you now know everything about a person (seriously, you at least need to see a few before Facebook posts can truly define someone’s personality!). The other side of the statistical spectrum is decidedly more feel-good in the earth-friendliness department.

  • In a 2014 Pew survey, nearly three quarters of respondents agreed with the principle that the country “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”
  • In the National Geographic Greendex survey cited above, more than three quarters of Americans (78 percent) intend to make at least some improvement to personal habits, with 22 percent interested in making a significant or very significant improvement in personal impact on the long-term wellbeing of the environment.
  • And, according to Cone Communications’ Green Gap Trend Tracker, 71 percent of Americans consider the environment when they shop, up from 66 percent in 2008.

Even our leisure activities speak to care for the natural world. Ogorzalek points out that 292 million people visited our national parks in 2014, while 700 million people visited wildlife in global zoos and aquariums. More of us grow our own veggies now than we did five years ago, and cities from Washington, DC, and Denver to Lexington, Ky., have more than doubled their bike commuter share since 2000.

We’re all in a relationship with the world in which we live—some of us are just more likely to put a ring on it by claiming the label “environmentalist.”

We Still Care…And So What?

That we care about nature or the environment may seem insignificant, points out Barrett. What matters is how we demonstrate said caring.

“I think the important part about caring is that it is the catalyst for specific behavior,” he says. “A person is generally going to make deliberate choices based on what they feel or care about.”

Even the busiest of us show we care in obvious ways, says Ogorzalek, from donating to a cause or choosing a microbead-free face wash at the store, to simply choosing to sit outside to read the morning news.

So, is caring about the environment passé? Depends on how you look at it. When you strip away the politics and the perceptions, many of us still demonstrate plenty of care for the environment.

Maybe, as Barrett says, it’s actually a signal of the movement’s success that entire communities of people have adopted environmentally conscious behaviors, like recycling—but have come to view these actions as just another part of the typical day.

One Green Thing

Show some affection for Mama Earth by picking up litter at your fave outdoor spot.

—As part of our partnership with Chicago Public Media/WBEZ, this content may also appear on the Worldview page.