An increasing number of young people are concerned about global
warming, according to recent studies, and some are working to
fight it through business initiatives, such as credit cards that
invest in renewable energy.
Andy Rossmeissl and Jake Whitcomb, both 24, founded Brighter
Planet in late 2005 after taking an environmental economics course
together at Middlebury College in Vermont. Challenged by their
professor Jon Isham to devise innovative ways to bring more people
into the discussion about climate change, Rossmeissl and Whitcomb
decided to take a business approach.
"We were pretty inspired from the beginning. The ideas started
to take a life of their own, and we just sort of ran with it,"
They founded Brighter Planet, a for-profit business with the
goal of creating products that involve consumers in combating
Their first product, the patent-pending Bright Card, will be
a credit card with a green twist -- instead of getting points
or airline miles for dollars spent, a percentage of purchase charges
will be invested in efforts to advance renewable energy. The selling
point is that users can help to offset the greenhouse gas carbon
dioxide generated by the average consumer lifestyle.
Rossmeissl said he was inspired to translate his ideas and enthusiasm
about climate change into a business because it felt like the
market was ripe.
"In the past few years there has been a surge of energy
about climate change -- in being a part of the solution, not just
an observer of it," he said. "It was clear to us that
people wanted to help and do something about climate change."
More than buzz?
According to a 2007 study conducted by the Pew Research Center
in conjunction with Judy Woodruff's Generation Next documentary
aired on PBS, young people are slightly more likely to accept
the basic premise that global temperatures are rising. Eighty-one
percent of young people said that, based on what they know, there
is "solid evidence" that average global temperatures
have been increasing over the past few decades, compared to 77
percent of Americans overall who agreed with that claim.
And 18-to-25 year olds are in line with Americans in general
in considering global warming a "very serious problem"
-- about 42 percent, compared to 41 percent of the general public.
But in terms of knowledge and understanding of the issue, a 2007
Hamilton College poll found that in general, American high school
students lack a grasp of climate change basics. The average high
school student failed the study's nine-question quiz on the causes
and consequences of climate change. For example, nearly 82 percent
of participants affirmed, incorrectly, that "scientists believe
radiation from nuclear power plants cause global temperatures
Seventy percent of respondents said that the United States should
start reducing its production of greenhouse gasses now rather
than wait until there is more scientific evidence about the future
benefits of greenhouse gasses. However, only 28 percent said it
is "very likely" that climate change will affect them
personally in the future.
Study results also found that while about half the students said
they learned the most about climate change in school, about the
same proportion said they learned the most from media sources.
Alvis Simon, a 16-year-old high school student from Decatur,
GA, is in the latter camp. He said he didn't learn about climate
change in school, but rather from television and former Vice President
Al Gore's 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth." But Simon
said he's skeptical about what he's learned from such sources.
"It's not totally humans that are the reason for [global
warming]," he said. But, he added, "humans are enhancing
Tucker Hutchinson, 22, a 2007 Hamilton College graduate who worked
on the Hamilton study as part of an undergraduate class, said
that while conducting some preliminary polling he noticed a discrepancy
between high schoolers' recognition of key phrases and the knowledge
to back up those phrases.
"I think that [global warming and climate change] are now
buzz words," he said. "A lot of kids didn't have to
ask what those terms meant. But that doesn't mean they have any
idea of how global warming is functioning or what evidence we
have to support it."
But Hutchinson said he was pleasantly surprised by some of the
"I was inspired because there wasn't a huge gap between
Republican and Democrat [responses to climate change questions],"
he said. "We expected the Democrats to know more about climate
change and the Republicans the opposite, and that was the case
a little bit, but not nearly as much as we expected."
And that's how it should be, according to Hutchinson and many
others in the global warming awareness camp.
"The environment is an unpartisan issue," he said.
"It's a human problem."
At the same time, the Hamilton College poll found that the average
American high school student, while not particularly well-informed
about climate change, is not apathetic to the issue either.
"There is an overwhelming urgency around climate change,
and young people understand that more than anyone else,"
said Jessy Tolkan, 26. "They understand urgency because it's
our future that we have to worry about."
Tolkan is campaign director for Power Shift 2007, a four-day
student summit on climate change planned for early November at
the University of Maryland, College Park. The summit is a project
of the Energy Action Coalition, a group of 45 environmental organizations
based in the United States and Canada.
With an anticipated 5,000 participants, the summit will include
speakers, training seminars, and panels all focused on global
warming education and furthering the movement to combat it. The
event will conclude with a day of lobbying at the U.S. Capitol
with participants hoping to inspire legislation on climate change.
Tolkan emphasized that Power Shift 2007 is the product of a growing
number of youth climate change-oriented efforts. "Over the
past three or four years, we have seen literally hundreds of youth-led
summits on global warming," she said.
-- By Sarah Murphy, Generation