How These Utah Teens Made Their Parents Care About Air Pollution

©. Poster by Tatum Scow (Courtesy of Clean Air Contest)

A new study found that influencing Utah teens was a pretty great way to get to their parents.

It's hard to get people to care about air pollution.

"In my home state of Utah, we suffer from some of the worst air pollution in the nation due to our winter inversions, but a key hurdle in tackling the issue is citizen ambivalence," Edwin Stafford, a marketing professor at Utah State University, told me.

One of the problems is that adults don't have to listen to environmental lectures if they don't want to.

"Targeting adults for formal education about clean air actions, for instance, poses formidable barriers simply because adults are busy and there are few institutions where adults can be reached easily as a captive audience," explained a study Stafford worked on.

Luckily, there's a group of people who don't have all those pesky freedoms: teenagers. Making people sit in a classroom or seven hours a day really gets them to pay attention.

So Stafford and his colleagues started a poster contest. Teens may have participated in the Utah High School Clean Air poster contest to win prizes, but Stafford secretly hoped the contest would have a hidden consequence: perhaps teens would start talking to their parents about air pollution.

poster contest utah winner

© Poster by McCall Davis (Courtesy of Clean Air Contest)

It worked. 71 percent of the parents said their teens started conversations about air pollution in Utah with them. Talking about specific ways to decrease pollution (not idling while driving) were more influential than general conversations about air pollution.

While many adults may not care about the environment, they care about their children's respect. It's part of what the scientists are calling the "Inconvenient Youth" effect.

"What we’ve discovered is that the teens participating in the contest do report engaging in clean air actions – but they also influence their parents," Stafford continued. "We believe this may help in breaking local apathy about air pollution."

Younger people tend to be more concerned about global warming. In the U.S. 70 percent people aged 18 to 34 were worried about climate change in 2018, compared to 56 percent of people aged 55 or older, according to a Gallup poll. Hopefully, the *youth* will keep most making life inconvenient for the institutions that turn a blind eye to pollution (like the ones that run their schools).