The data is in. Kids these days trust the news media as a source for information on global climate change only slightly more than they trust Sarah "I'm-not-one-who-would-attribute-it-to-being-man-made" Palin. So sayeth the researchers at American, Yale, and George Mason universities in a recent study.
Matthew Nisbet, an assistant professor in AU's School of Communication, writes that "only 33% under the age of 35 trust the news media as a source of information about climate change, a proportion lower than any other age group. This proportion is also only slightly higher than the 27% of those under 35 who trust Sarah Palin on climate change."
Social intuition has told us that "youth" are and should be more concerned about climate change than older adults. After all, the younger you are the more future you have to lose, right? Well, no. It turns out that the under-35ers are less likely than older adults to believe that global warming is already harming people in the United States and elsewhere in the world and are instead more likely to believe that harm will begin 10, 25, or even 50 years in the future. Just 21% of 18 to 34-year-olds believe that people around the world are currently experiencing harm due to global warming, relative to 33% of those 35 to59 and 29% of those 60 and older.
But here's a really interesting part of this study -- when you add religion into the mix. There was no measurable difference across age when it comes to trusting religious leaders on climate change -- except among evangelical Christians. While self-identified evangelicals, who make up roughly 30% of the U.S. population, are more likely to trust religious leaders on global warming than Americans who don't identify as evangelical, this is especially true of young adults.
Eighty-one percent of the under-35 evangelicals trust religious leaders as an information source on global warming, compared to just 36% of non-evangelical young adults.
In contrast, 51% of evangelicals 60 and older trust religious leaders compared to 41% of non-evangelicals. Notably, 66% of evangelicals trust scientists. And a full 77% of young evangelicals says that they trust scientists as an information source on global warming. President Obama is also a trusted source among a majority (52%) of young evangelicals.
This data highlights the critical role religious leaders play in education around global climate change. It is important that the pulpit be a place that provides accurate and trustworthy information on environmental issues within the context of our Christian narrative and moral tradition.
So, pastors out there, here's your three-point sermon: Earthkeeping. Fruitfulness. Sabbath. In other words, "serve and preserve," "foster generative life," "regularly choose being, rather than doing." Or just go straight Bible on this issue: Genesis 2:15; Ezekiel 34:18; Leviticus 25, 26.
Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).