The Earth is getting hotter. Polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. The health and sustainability of the planet are something that affect all of us, but being environmentally conscious isn’t just a state of mind. It requires understanding and action.
When we think about the environment, maybe it’s giant landfills that come to mind. Or perhaps it’s polar bears on melting ice. The real effects of damage being done to the environment are all around us, and the solutions may be much simpler than you think.
We polled over 2,000 people to understand which regions, generations, and genders weren’t just concerned about our planet, but which types of people were passionately engaged to do something about it.
Turning a Blind Eye
Recognizing the devastating effects of global warming can be difficult, but we found that nearly 84 percent of the people polled acknowledge that global warming is a problem.
According to LiveScience, 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year on record, with each of the first six months – from January to June – setting new highs.
The Midwest had the lowest percentage of climate-change deniers with just over 15 percent. That region happens to be the country’s agricultural powerhouse, and most farmers believe that climate change is occurring (though they’re less inclined to attribute it to human activity).
Of the almost 17 percent who deny that global warming is an issue, over 40 percent of those people live in the South. Until 2015, the Huffington Post identifies that states like Alabama were not required to include material supporting climate change or the causes in their statewide educational curriculum. In 2014, Oklahoma lawmakers voted 10 to 1 to reject an academic standard for science that would have included content on human impacts on the environment.
When it comes to prioritizing the harmfulness of global warming, men and women don’t always agree.
While very few people told us they strongly disagreed that climate change was an issue, we found that women were much more likely to identify the problem over men in every age category. Most notably, over 80 percent of baby-boomer women said that they either strongly agree or agree that global warming is a problem. Unfortunately, male baby boomers (between the ages of 52 and 69) were by far the least likely of any generation to identify strongly with the question. Just over 22 percent of those polled said they didn’t see global warming as a problem.
Millennials were the most likely to respond positively. Men and women born between 1982 and 1998, millennials represented the most environmentally conscious demographic we surveyed. Over 91 percent of women and 82 percent of men responded that they understood the problem that global warming creates, and only 3 percent of female millennials disagree entirely that climate change is an issue.
Simply recognizing that global warming exists may not be enough to compel us to take action. To make changes in our day-to-day lifestyle, we have to also understand the impact that humans are having on climate change.
According to NASA, scientists largely agree that the leading impact on global warming is human behavior. Despite historical evidence that climate change could be caused by the sun alone, modern research shows that not all levels of the atmosphere are heating up equally. The impact of greenhouse gases warms the lower level of the atmosphere, reinforcing the widely held position that humans are contributing in a big way to the change in climate.
While not everyone we polled agrees with the evidence of the human impact on global warming, most do. With the exception of one section of respondents, over 70 percent of everyone we surveyed told us they strongly agree that human activity is affecting global warming. These margins increased the younger our demographic got. Millennials were largely the most likely to agree, and almost 85 percent of female millennials indicated they understood the severity of human impact on our planet.
Women are more likely than men to agree that humans are having a negative impact on global warming, and male baby boomers come up last again. Though an outlier, nearly 30 percent disagree or strongly disagree that humans are causing climate change at all. That’s almost 1 in 3.
It All Adds Up!
Understanding the widespread damage caused by climate change and the negative impact that we’re having on the environment can be overwhelming. Sometimes it may seem hard to even know where to start repairing the damage that’s been done. The impact of our recycling efforts can be tremendous though.
The average American keeps 1.51 pounds of waste out of landfills every day by recycling. While that may not seem like a lot, over the course of the year that adds up to over 500 pounds of potential trash! Piled high, that would equal the height of two school buses end to end.
Expand the individual’s efforts to the family, and the impact grows. Families recycle an average of 6.04 pounds of waste every day and over 2,000 pounds a year. That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty!
All of that recycling really adds up. The United States recycles almost 239,000 tons of waste every day and over 87 million tons a year. That trash weighs as much as over 697,000 blue whales and could reach the distance of the moon and back 10 times!
Keeping that trash out of our rapidly growing landfills is something to be proud of and proves the impact each of us can have.
Easier Than It Looks
There are numerous ways that Americans can contribute through recycling. One of the easiest methods involves giving up a type of plastic before you even have to think about how to get rid of it.
Plastic shopping bags are notoriously bad for the environment and exceptionally difficult to recycle. Even though most grocery stores may have receptacles for them, few states have the ability to properly recycle plastic bags. Often they are either burned or shipped to a landfill. Because of these complications, NCSL.org highlights some cities and states that have made the powerful decision to ban them entirely.
Baby boomers actually had the highest percentages of “always” or “frequently” bringing their own reusable bags from home, and millennials (despite responding largely that they understood the impact of human behavior on global warming) had the lowest.
All surveyed demographics showed a much higher likelihood of recycling their bottles and cardboard. Increased convenience through single-stream recycling collection has helped increase the number of recycled plastic bottles every year since 1990, according to WasteManagementWorld.com.
Reducing our carbon footprint sometimes means taking more drastic steps than just recycling.
Eco-friendly cars are becoming more mainstream, and despite the initial commitment cost, HybridCars.com indicates that they’re growing in popularity. Baby boomers and male millennials especially are more inclined to invest in hybrid or eco-friendly cars to reduce their overall driving emissions.
Though it’s less popular than owning a hybrid car, younger generations (especially millennials) are also more likely to carpool; carpooling can impact not only the environment but our communities with its ability to reduce traffic congestion.
The Power of the Sun
The amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, land, and oceans every year equates to 40,000 times the total energy consumed by the United States, according to EnergyInformative.org.
Solar energy has so much potential in our quest for increased environmental friendliness, but unfortunately, it has been slower to catch on in the mainstream. Very few of those we surveyed said that they currently had solar devices on their homes. Despite some government incentives to invest, most people have yet to take the plunge.
We’re All in This Together
Despite the sometimes polarizing rhetoric, Americans of every age group are doing their part to change the legacy of human impact on the environment. The efforts of going green – from recycling paper and plastic, to investing in green technology – are changing the narrative.
Women responded more favorably than men in every age group (generally with wider margins in older demographics), and female baby boomers had the highest percentage of positive responses saying that they actively participate in keeping our planet green.
There is still some room for improvement. The potential impact of recycling by one person is so strong that swaying the smaller percentages of respondents who don’t consider themselves active participants in “going green” can still have a tremendous impact on our global environmental presence.
(No) Two Ways About It
The scientific evidence that supports global warming and the effect that humans are having on the planet remains one of the most highly contested conversations in America.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and historical data that show us the damaging patterns of climate change, not everyone can agree on the importance of changing human behaviors to save our planet.
We do have the power to make a difference. The effects of simple steps like these add up when we all pitch in:
- Buy reusable shopping bags and keep them in your car for easy access.
- Start a carpool group in your workplace.
- Take advantage of some state-issued discounts on solar energy and invest in solar panels.
- Recycle or donate old electronics instead of throwing them away.
Our efforts have an impact, and our contributions combined have proven to be tremendous. These are just a few of the things that we have control over to limit our impact on the environment. SaveOnEnergy.com has more resources and suggestions for your home and business to help keep our planet clean and green.
We surveyed more than 2,000 people in the U.S. about their recycling and environment-related habits. For generational comparisons we defined the age groups based on the following: Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1997, Generation X are people born between 1965 and 1980, and Baby Boomers were defined as those born from 1946 and 1964.
For the graphic titled “Visualizing the Impact of Our Recycling,” we used the EPA’s average estimate of 1.51 pounds of recycled waste per person per day to calculate the yearly recycling average per person, per family of four, and for the entire United States.
To calculate the height of the recycling tallies, we assumed that mixed residential recycling weighs 177.32 pounds per cubic yard, and converted this to square footage. To compare these heights and weights with real world animals and objects, we used http://www.bluebulbprojects.com/measureofthings/.
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