The climate crisis is number one on the agenda of Gen Z. They can’t remember a time when climate change was not the topic of conversation. College administrators are seeing a surge of students pursuing environmental-related degrees and careers. When asked, students say that the problem is real, and they want and need to be part of the solution.
There are partisan political stances on the topic of climate change. In addition, there are generational differences over the need for action on the climate crisis. Younger generations, Gen Z and Millennials, are more engaged with the issue. They speak about the need for change more often, they are viewing more media related to climate change and they are participating in more activities related to climate change, such as volunteer efforts and rallies and protests. This is among both dominant political parties, although Gen Z is less likely to vote than the older population.
The same Pew Research poll also shows that Gen Z adults are anxious about the future and climate change. They overwhelmingly approve of phasing out fossil fuel-powered vehicles, and a majority believe that fossil fuels should be entirely phased out for energy production.
For Gen Z, climate change and the urgency for a solution is affecting their career choices. Some are planning careers that will guarantee a good income because having money means you can be less affected by climate change. Some have turned their passion into action by joining seasonal forest fighting brigades to combat the ever growing wildfires across the country. One young person discusses whether it is responsible to bring children into a crumbling world. Still others think you need to choose a career that will make an impact on the world you are living in.
President Biden is looking to Gen Z, the economy and climate change when promoting his Civilian Climate Corps. Modeled after President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the Corps would create jobs that pay well, offer benefits, and perhaps channel young people into careers in environmentalism. The original CCC offered low-paying jobs to young men. The 2021 version aims to be more diverse and inclusive, and to pay better, meaning that it will be a viable option for people who want the experience but need to earn a paycheck. Although the jobs will be designed to be short-term, the goal is to launch people into careers focusing on the environment.
Colleges are also stepping up to meet the demands of Gen Z students. The University of Southern California has initiated a plan that aims to educate each student at USC about how sustainability and their major field of study are related.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have announced the launch of their Gulf Scholars Program which will partner with colleges in the Gulf of Mexico region. The goal is to cultivate future leaders who will serve as scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and innovators in the local communities. The area is already feeling the effect of extreme weather in places that are already depressed economically, and the hope is that the students will graduate and remain in the area to make it a better place to live.
These and other initiatives across the country can help prepare Gen Z students for a chance to make a positive impact on what their world and their future will become.