Youth poll reveals frustration on environmental progress
Mon, Dec 05 2011 at 11:14 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy has released a new nationwide poll that reveals America’s youth are unhappy with the condition of the environment, and lack faith in adults to address it. The findings also show strong evidence that more time spent in nature directly correlates with a commitment to protect it, and that youth in the West are spending more time in nature than youth anywhere else in the country.
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of youth surveyed agree that “previous generations have damaged our environment and left it to our generation to fix it.” Only one-third of youth believe that government leaders are doing a “good job addressing major problems facing our country.”
The research confirmed that youth are not spending a great deal of time outdoors.
- 88 percent of America’s youth spend time online every day.
- 69 percent said they play video games or watch TV every day.
- Conversely, just 11 percent reported regularly spending time outside every day.
“This research is a wake-up call for parents, leaders and the conservation community,” said Mark Tercek, Nature Conservancy president and CEO. “Today’s youth do not believe we are doing enough to address the mounting challenges facing the environment. It is critical that we take more proactive steps to protect our lands and waters for younger generations and connect them with these places.”
When it comes to getting outside, youth in the West are most likely to regularly spend time in nature, and far less likely to see discomfort as an obstacle to being outside (with just 25 percent rating it a “major obstacle” compared to 36 percent of the full sample). In fact, 39 percent of Western youth prefer spending time outdoors, while 35 percent of youth in the Northeast prefer spending time indoors.
“We know families in Utah and throughout the West truly value time spent together in nature,” said Dave Livermore, state director for the Conservancy’s Utah chapter. “What we’re finding is a growing interest in programs we offer to help parents and teachers get children outside more, learn about nature and understand the value of conserving our natural places and resources.”
This year, the Nature Conservancy’s Utah chapter is increasing its youth outreach efforts, which include kid-friendly field trips to preserves, a new Great Salt Lake “patch program” for Boy and Girl Scouts, education partnerships with the University of Utah, Utah State University and Brigham Young University, and a new emphasis on the award-winning Wings & Water Wetlands Education Program.
Underway since 2005, the Conservancy’s Wings & Water program takes 1,500 fourth-graders out on guided field trips to the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve every year. As the recent poll shows, programs like Wings & Water are increasingly important. Teens surveyed across the country indicated they value field trip experiences that get them outside, yet fewer than one-quarter of youth say they go on outdoor field trips on even a monthly basis.
“That’s why we’re eager to continue getting kids out to our preserves and other amazing Utah landscapes,” says Livermore “These children are the future leaders of our state, and it’s so important that they understand and value the unique lands and waters that sustain our communities and our quality of life.”
The need to reconnect youth with the natural world is an issue gaining momentum in many circles statewide. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed H.C.R. 7, a concurrent resolution that “expressed support for increased participation by children in outdoor activities.” Coined the “No Child Left Inside” bill, this acknowledgement of nature’s influence in the healthy development of children is one local example of a nationwide effort to get young people outside.
For ideas to help you connect your kids with nature or for more information on getting outside through one of the Conservancy’s programs, visit nature.org/Utah.
Key Findings from National Poll
- More time spent in nature directly correlates with a commitment to protect it: 66 percent of youth who reported having a personal experience in nature that made them appreciate it more were twice as likely to view themselves as strong environmentalists. And those who reported they were frequently in nature were also significantly more likely to express concern about water pollution, air pollution, and the condition of the environment.
- There is great potential to mobilize American youth around issues related to the environment and nature: Youth today think safeguarding important lands and waters should be a priority regardless of any ancillary benefits and the struggling economy.
- Peer pressure is a good thing too: The research found that an overwhelming majority, 90 percent, would spend more time in nature if their friends encouraged them to.
- Nature is an Rx for Stress: Youth have a lot on their minds — sizable majorities rate bullying, crime and the quality of public education as “extremely” or “very serious” problems. But the results indicate that spending time in nature could help them cope with that stress. Nearly three-quarters associate being in nature with being peaceful, free, calm and happy.
The research was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) and funding was provided by The Toyota USA Foundation and The Foundation for Youth Investment.
"Today's youth are going to be the innovators of new solutions to ensure a sustainable future, and we are proud to support this critical research to illuminate how youth across the nation value nature in a rapidly changing world, "said Pat Pineda, group vice president of philanthropy at Toyota Motor North America
"The Foundation for Youth Investment (FYI) was proud to sponsor this research that sheds light on why our youth are spending less time outdoors,” said Steve Hagler, executive director of the FYI. “Unlike previous generations where parents simply said, ‘Go outside and play!’ kids today need more encouragement, and we must give them the opportunity by providing outdoor programs and safe open spaces and parks.”
To learn more about the poll and The Nature Conservancy’s work to engage youth with nature, visit nature.org/youthpoll.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
Photo: Ernst Vikne/Flickr