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Hitch a Ride on the Conservation Train

In Rants and Raves on November 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

 

Are millennials showing renewed energy for conservation?

 

Our parents grew up in an era of [seemingly] unlimited energy.

They rolled their eyes at an unfashionable and out-of-touch president who turned down the heat in winter, wore sweaters around the White House instead and asked everyone to think about that dirty little “C” word – conservation.

Our parents were young and impressionable during the oil scares of ’73 and ’79,  but for some reason the collective memory of those uncertain times – a memory shaped by long gas lines and fears of an OPEC takeover of Western civilization as we knew it – was a short-term one. The 1980s oil glut brought record-low gasoline prices and with them, a renewed zeal for endless consumption.

Cultural amnesia translated to more and bigger cars. After all, it was our parents’ generation that birthed SUVs, Humvees and four-car garages.

But according to recent research, Millennials may be putting an end to all of that.

A recent MSNBC article highlights a growing trend: young people are buying fewer cars.

Today, the share of new cars sold to 21- to 35-year-olds is down more than 11 percent from 1985. Not only are Millennials not buying cars, they’re not driving them: Only 31 percent of 16-year-olds had their license in 2008, down from about 42 percent in 1994.

So what’s the deal? According to MSNBC’s Allison Linn, a number of factors come into play:

…a confluence of events — environmental worries, a preference for gadgets over wheels and the yearslong economic doldrums — is pushing some teens and twentysomethings to opt out of what has traditionally been considered an American rite of passage: Owning a car.

More significant than the decline in car purchases are the reasons behind it: for the first time in a long time, young people are being more economically and environmentally austere. Certainly, the current recession plays a major part. High unemployment and financial insecurity have young people naturally pulling back the reins and rethinking their needs and wants.

But there is also a sense that Millennials are more attuned to the big-picture consequences of our love affair with cars – like the long-term environmental impact and our dependence on diminishing oil reserves.

Automakers have been the first to feel the power of our purse. The most responsive are starting to take us seriously by offering smaller cars with better gas mileage. It’s a start.

But what happens when Millennials demand more? More sophisticated and accessible public transportation systems, for instance. More opportunities to carpool and telecommute. More R & D funding to explore and harness alternative energy sources.

It could be that Millennials are just following the lead of past generations – one more link in a chain of reactive behaviors and policy decisions. Or, we could end up being the champions of a new era of conservation – starting with our demand for better transportation.

Like all things, systemic change to our energy approach is within our generation’s reach – it’s just a matter of turning the ignition key.

Photo Credit [One]

Know Millennials who are leading the charge for alternative transportation and renewable energy? I’d like to learn about them: twenty.somethings.project@gmail.com

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