Young people choose their dietary habits —flexitarians, vegetarians, or vegans—with climate change in mind, according to a study published in the journal Cleaner and Responsible Consumption (1)
Undoubtedly, climate change will affect the future of young people. Many factors can have an influence on climate, some of which we cannot control. However, there are some we can, including our own diet.
Eating a climate-friendly diet is one way to fight climate change. The production of different food items varies significantly in terms of greenhouse gases emitted. Many studies have shown that animals products transported halfway around the world tend to be more harmful to the climate than-non animal products or locally produced items.
Researchers from the University of Göttingen, Germany, decided to investigate how awareness of climate change influenced young people’s choice of diet. The team sent questionnaires to about 1400 people living in Germany and between the ages of 15 and 29. The questionnaire asked a series of questions relating to climate change awareness, including how they would behave in specific scenarios and the future consequences of such actions.
Results showed that the younger generation can be sub-divided into three groups regarding their climate awareness: those that support it (57%), not yet decided (29%), and those that deny it (14%). Overall, the younger generation seems very aware of climate change. A large group is already implementing climate-friendly choices regarding their own diet: 29% see themselves as flexitarians —they only eat meat occasionally—and 17% are entirely meat-free.
“The topic of climate change and climate awareness is becoming increasingly important for consumers in all areas of life. This is also clear from public discussion and must not be ignored by companies and politicians,” says Professor Achim Spiller, head of the research group, Marketing for Food and Agricultural Products.
The undecided group doesn’t necessarily deny the evidence supporting climate change, but it doesn’t take it into account for their own behaviour. In contrast, deniers do not believe climate change is a problem caused by humans, and they do not change their behaviour in any way. “Our results show that a lot of communication is necessary to promote a more climate-conscious diet among the undecided group,” says Dr. Kristin Jürkenbeck from the University of Göttingen, lead author of the study.
The team discussed ideas to encourage the undecided and deniers to change their behaviour towards more eco-friendly options—for example, a higher tax on climate-damaging products and a cheaper version on climate-friendly products. Part of the solution is also better education. The team believes the undecided are more likely to change if the human impact on climate change is explained more strongly.
Future research should expand this work across young generations in several countries. “Such research would allow conclusions to be drawn as to whether the climate change awareness of the young generation plays a role worldwide,” conclude the researches in the paper.
(1) Jürkenbeck, K., Spiller, A., and Schulze, M. (2021). Climate change awareness of the young generation and its impact on their diet. Cleaner and Responsible Consumption, 100041. DOI: 10.1016/j.clrc.2021.100041