June 17, 2021 3:48 pm
Some argue that age is nothing more than a number; for others, however, age is associated with wisdom. Or maybe it’s a state of mind. Whatever it is, age is a major factor in the fight against the climate crisis and the renewed momentum brought by 2021 must be used to mobilize the elderly population, which is too little considered in this light.
So far, the global movement to combat climate change has mainly involved the young population and, before the advent of covid-19, student-led protests have been seen everywhere in the world that have broadened public debate and given greater visibility to young people in major international forums.
If on the one hand these events are important steps forward, on the other, unfortunately, 2020 was the hottest year ever recorded and to avoid a catastrophe it would be necessary to reduce emissions which are instead constantly increasing. A rapid reaction of the whole society is therefore necessary.
Reasons to mobilize
In discussions on climate change, older people are practically invisible to younger ones, yet they are undoubtedly key to making initiatives more effective. Here are five reasons why it is necessary that the momentum of young people involve them more and make them protagonists.
Older people are extremely vulnerable to the climate crisis and its effects, especially with regards to their health and the possibility of facing extreme events. Their situation can become more delicate due to mobility problems, social isolation (in some cultures) and difficulties in having access to services. For example, 75 percent of the deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the United States were over sixty. On the other hand, however, their per capita ecological footprint may include rather high energy consumption for domestic use and reliance on cars for travel. Over time, younger people with a large energy footprint can maintain their high CO2 emission levels even later in life.
Worldwide, the number of people over 65 is increasing faster than other age groups, and could represent one of the most significant social transformations of this century. The phenomenon is not limited to more developed regions, such as Japan or southern Europe: today two thirds of the world‘s elderly population live in less industrialized countries and in general this share is increasing in most countries. In quantity and proportion, the trend in the coming years could translate into an increase in CO2 emissions related to the elderly population.
Older investors are less concerned with environmental and social issues than younger ones
Like the right to protest non-violently, voting in elections is also a citizen’s right. Yet many young people do not have this right or choose not to exercise it. In countries like the United States, for example, 52 percent of registered voters in 2020 were over 50 (up from 41 percent in 1996). Studies have found that older people feel that they are less affected by the effects of the climate crisis than young people and are less able to tackle it, which could influence their choice to give or not the support needed to change policies.
There is not much coherence between policies regarding aging populations and climate change. For example, the UN document establishing the Sustainable Development Goals (Oss) mentions the elderly population only three times, and the main mechanism for monitoring progress in individual countries shows that only one in 110 territories, Andorra, reports on efforts. which put the aging of the population at the center of policies to achieve the goal of effective actions against climate change (Obs 13).
An increasingly large portion of global wealth, including the assets and expenses that drive the economy, is in the hands of older people. If we take the United States as an example, we see that the population over 55 spends twice the amount mobilized in the market aimed at the most considered millennial. According to current estimates, between now and 2030 only 11% of the investment capital will be in the hands of people younger than 45 years. Yet, despite having a greater weight in the stock market and voting rights, older investors tend to consider factors such as the environment, society and public affairs far less than younger investors.
Given the key position of people of a certain age in translating environmental protection ideas into practice, how can we channel and capitalize on their wisdom and influence? For example, by giving greater weight to issues and policies that are of interest to the elderly, such as climate-related risks and opportunities with regard to pensions and investments, good energy management at home, possible options for mobility with a lower environmental impact or by developing warning systems for the risk of extreme climatic conditions.
This should also include specific communication and the creation of new knowledge: while today’s young people can receive training on climate change at school, the older ones have not had this opportunity and so far little information specifically targeted at them has been produced. However, it must be said that there are noteworthy exceptions, such as the universities of the third age, which aim at training and involving mainly retirees in active social life.
Covid-19 has highlighted how interconnected we are globally, showing us how both young and old alike suffer the direct and indirect effects of what happens. From this point of view, the climate crisis also affects indiscriminately, and we have seen protagonists of initiatives such as David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg take action to reduce the gap between generations. Examples of solidarity like this are a promising premise for a more inclusive climate agenda, in which concern for the future is on the same level as the sense of continuity with respect to previous generations and the urge to take care of those who come after. our.
As we tackle the climate crisis together, we need to mobilize as much mobilization as possible, from the young to the elderly, and from anyone in between these two categories. The time has come to act inclusive.
(Translation by Maria Chiara Benini)