I knew no one cared about the environment. I knew it because people keep telling me how much they care about the environment. Yet somehow members of Generation Y have convinced older people that they are really, seriously, totally going to clean up the mess they were rudely left. But children enjoy lecturing their parents about recycling for the same reason they like shaking their heads in disgust at smokers: the disempowered love to tell people in charge they're doing something wrong. It's why Rush Limbaugh calls people who get to have sex "sluts."
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State and the author of Generation Me, decided to find out if Gen Y-ers really do care about the planet as much as they claim. "I thought it was possible people are channeling their narcissism and need for positive response into being green," she said. Twenge is so harsh that if she'd written those Tom Brokaw books, she would have described the Greatest Generation as cheap and too militaristic.
Turns out Gen Y is as green as an oil spill. In her study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology--which I normally get just for the pictures--Twenge found that today's high school seniors and college freshmen make far less effort to help the environment than baby boomers did at that age. Compared with boomers and Generation X-ers, Gen Y-ers are the least willing to cut down on driving and electricity use. "There was a lot more questioning of materialism in the 1970s. Now it's just like, Let's all live like the Kardashians," she said. Though in Gen Y's defense, being a Kardashian back in the 1970s didn't seem so great, since it involved a lot of hanging out with O.J. Simpson.
This generational shift in attitude, I believe, is due to the fact that over time, human beings discovered that saving the planet sucks. Sure, I recycle, because recycling is exactly as easy as not recycling. We own a Prius so producers I meet think I'm a caring person instead of a person who hasn't sold a script for enough money to buy a Porsche. We have a tankless water heater because I want endless amounts of hot water. My lovely wife Cassandra persuaded me to flush less often, but I'm pretty sure that's because she wants to cut down on visitors.
But we won't do anything that actually involves sacrifice. We haven't properly insulated our house, we overwater the bamboo forest in our backyard in water-short Los Angeles, and we use incandescent lights because they look better than compact fluorescent lights and because I save my fights with Cassandra for stuff about sex.
While I feel bad for future generations that won't have polar bears or coastal cities, I feel far worse for Ed Begley Jr. After he was mocked for a near lifetime for driving an electric car, the culture finally admitted he was right. Then the culture decided not to do anything about it anyway.
Less than an hour after I e-mailed him about Twenge's study, Begley called me from a lake-home and cabin show in Chicago, where he was promoting a line of composting toilets called Envirolet, apparently in an effort to get America back to making fun of him. "I'm a little depressed," he said about the study. "I assumed they cared more." I wished there were some kind of technology that allowed you to hug a man through his hand-cranked cell phone.