Australian teens not so NIMBY as The Age suggests

Australian environmental polling consistently finds young people to be greener than old people, but according to an article in Monday’s Education Age Australian 15 year olds deserve a place on the NIMBY list.

Drawing on results from the 2006 OECD PISA survey, the article says that

only one in 10 Australian teens strongly support the regulation of factory emissions that could lead to product price rises, less than a quarter strongly supported emission checks on vehicles as a condition of use and one in seven strongly supported cutting back on unnecessary use of electrical appliances.

But on looking at the OECD report, the key word in that paragraph is ‘strongly’. It lists agree or strongly agree in a single figure, and on that Australian 15 year olds start to look less NIMBYish. The one in ten wanting regulation of factory emissions increases to five in 10 when those who just agree, rather than strongly agree, are included (this is less than the 69% OECD average, but the question wording is vague in not specifying what the emissions are). Nine in ten want emissions checks on vehicles, and six in 10 claim to be disturbed by the waste of electricity in applicances.

Eight in 10 favour electricity being being produced from renewable sources, even if this increases the price.

Not including anything but ‘strongly agreeing’ responses as sufficiently green gives the report author Richard Sweet an opportunity for political commentary:

The Australian teens started school when John Howard’s coalition government was elected and turned 16 last year when his government was defeated.

“These students were not getting strong signals from the government,” Professor Sweet says. “If the country’s political leaders are not prepared to say we should make sacrifices and adjust our lifestyles, then it’s not surprising the attitudes of these teenagers are as negative as they are.

Yet surely this issue is a case study in the limits of political leaders’ capacity to shape opinion. Though NIMBYism is emerging as a major obstacle to action on climate change, the former PM’s climate change scepticism was utterly unsuccessful in shaping opinion. Whatever their genuine willingness to take major action on climate change, most teenagers have clearly learnt the environmentally-correct thing to say to questions like these, despite the lack of signals from the top.

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