In countries around the world, baby boomers and elders are turning out in increasingly large numbers to join the fight for climate action. What is at stake is the livelihood of future generations. As a boomer myself, I cannot stand by while world leaders continue to procrastinate on dealing with the climate crisis, the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity. (BoomerWarrior Editor ~ Rolly Montpellier).
I’m pleased to welcome Ellen Moyer as a contributor to BoomerWarrior. Ellen is an independent consultant dedicated to remediating environmental problems. In this article, she focuses on climate action by elders and their essential role in the new climate movement. (BoomerWarrior Editor ~ Rolly Montpellier).
Climate Action by Elders
Elders around the world may be our best hope for solving the “super wicked” problem of climate change. Short-term thinking created our current climate predicament. Despite warnings and predictions from the scientific community, the developed world spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Given that problems, solutions, costs, and benefits play out over time frames spanning generations, the situation calls for intergenerational climate-change activism.
Why would seniors enlist in the crusade? They have a long view due to the number of years they have already lived, during which many have witnessed changes in the climate. Many also have passion to protect their children and grandchildren. Halfdan Wiik of Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign says, “For me, it’s all about love and optimism. Elders of today have lived our lives in a world of great changes, for good and for bad. We know it can be changed once more.”
Elders often work with a sense of urgency, realizing that they may have relatively few years left in which to leave their legacy. And generally speaking — and with countless exceptions — compared with younger people, elders often have more free time, financial resources, wisdom, experience, economic and political clout, sense of connection to nature, and freedom from worries about job security, mortgages, and dependents.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, many of today’s elders successfully demanded an end to the Vietnam War, expanded the civil rights movement, and created the modern environmental movement. From these experiences, they learned how to create change.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben calls on baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) to rally once again. “Now is the boomers’ chance to reclaim their better, bolder natures and to end their run as it began,” he writes. Baby boomers began reaching retirement age in 2011. Retired boomers represent a huge, untapped resource that grows by 10,000 people every day in the U.S. alone. Baby boomers wield enormous power, constituting 36 percent of the U.S. electorate and accounting for half of all U.S. consumer spending.
Ron Pevny, director of the Center for Conscious Eldering and author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, highlights not only the growing demographics but also the number of retirement years in people’s life spans. “The paradigm for retirement is changing, with many people seeing this new life chapter as a time for both savoring newfound freedom and being strongly engaged with the community. They are feeling a strong need for purpose as they contemplate how to live fulfilling lives in their later years,” he remarks.
Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore suggests that elders may have a moral imperative to act on climate change. She writes: “Retired people often feel that, since they’ve worked all their lives, the world owes them a rest. That’s outrageous. Old age is precisely when we need to pay the world back. Yes, we have worked hard, but our successes depended on a stable climate, temperate weather, abundant food, cheap fuel, and a sturdy government — all advantages that our children and grandchildren will not have if we don’t act…. We’ve got to remember that the next generation will have to live in whatever is left of the world after we get done with it.”
Throughout human history and in many cultures, elders have insisted on attention to the needs of succeeding generations. Numerous elders groups taking on climate change have recently formed — many just within the past few years — and their memberships are growing.
- Elders Climate Action (ECA) pushes for change in energy policy, advocating for “carbon fee and dividend” legislation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan. ECA also supports 350.org’s campaign for divestment from fossil fuel stocks. ECA is organizing a national event in Washington, D.C., in September 2015 at which elders will rally and then deliver their message to members of Congress and government agencies. ECA is creating local working groups around the U.S. to continue work on federal as well as local climate legislation.
- Gray is Green, an environmental education, advocacy, and action organization for older adults, monitors and communicates climate change information. Among its climate change-related projects, it educates retirement communities about ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.
- Elder Activists works for a sustainable and just world, participating in climate change study groups, rallies, and marches.
- 100 Grannies works on an array of environmental issues, highlighting the topic of climate change in rallies, marches, workshops, lectures, and film festivals.
- Fifty Over Fifty uses the power of peaceful civil disobedience to push for climate solutions.
- Stay Cool for Grandkids, centered in the San Diego, California, area, focuses on local climate change-related issues, promoting smart transportation, development of a local climate action plan, open space preservation, and planning for sea level rise. Activities include letter-writing campaigns, workshops, and lectures.
Several organizations have the specific goal of bringing elders’ groups together. The Conscious Elders Network (CEN) is comprised of action teams that meet together monthly. In addition, CEN is building a web-based network to coordinate and promote other elders groups. The CEN website includes descriptions of elders organizations and a common calendar that lists their courses, retreats, and other events. CEN’s Intergenerational Connections action team works to bring elders and youngers together to address critical issues of our time, including climate change, by teaming up and learning from each other. The Conscious Aging Alliance is another growing network of elders organizations.
Elders groups are addressing climate change in the developed world outside the U.S. too:
- The Elders, an independent group of global leaders chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, work together for peace and human rights. They call for visionary leadership to set the world on a course for a carbon-neutral future. This includes a robust, universal, and legally binding agreement on climate change in 2015, in which every country commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- The Norwegian Grandparents Climate Change Campaign (NGCC) pushes for Norwegian climate legislation, enforcement of existing laws, cessation of new licenses for drilling in the Arctic, and withdrawal of Statoil (Norway’s state-owned oil company) from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. NGCC participated in the People’s Climate March, pushes for divestment from fossil fuels, and works closely with youngers — for example ECO-Agents, a children’s environmental organization. Elders and youngers write joint letters of protest to government officials, go together to Parliament to speak, meet in schools, and attend rallies and march together.
- The United Kingdom’s Grandparents Climate Action lobbies Parliament; participates in rallies and marches for climate action; attends fossil fuel divestment meetings at churches, universities, and local governments; hands out postcards; puts up posters; and edits One Million Climate Jobs booklets for international trade union conferences.
- Other organizations include Grandparents for a Safe Earth in the U.K, For Our Grandchildren in Canada, Suzuki Elders in Canada, BoomerWarrior in Canada, Grands-Parents pour le Climat in Switzerland, Grands-Parents pour le Climat in France, the European Network of Green Seniors, and Knitting Nannas in Australia.
Indigenous elders from around the world have been sounding the alarm for some time, and many say they have lost faith in the U.N. climate talks. Climate change is dramatically changing the ecosystems in which many of them live. The Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples Council made this formal statement in September 2014 at the United Nations Climate Summit: “We are all responsible and we are all capable of creating a new path forward with new sources of energy that do not harm the people or the Earth. We are obligated to all take action now to protect what is left of the Sacredness of Life. We can no longer wait for solutions from governmental and corporate leaders. We must all take action and responsibility to restore a healthy relationship with each other and Mother Earth. Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger? Know that you yourself are essential to this World. Believe that! Understand both the blessing and the burden of that.”
- Inuits assembled at an Elders Conference on Climate Change to discuss how the climate has changed, its possible future effects, and what can be done about the situation.
- The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, a “global alliance of prayer, education, and healing for our Mother Earth, all her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come,” works on climate change and other issues.
- Other international and Native American groups and gatherings involving elders working on climate change include Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change 2009, Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways,Wisdom of the Elders, First Stewards Inc., Olohana Foundation, and Native Peoples – Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop.
With its scope, interdependencies, uncertainties, and conflicts, climate change is a big problem that will span many generations. Westerners of all ages who are alive today have benefited from the petroleum party, so youngers share responsibility for the climate. Furthermore, the severity of the problem demands that all segments of the population must act. Climate change presents an opportunity for environmental crusaders of all ages to work together, learn from one another, and help create a carbon-neutral future.
This post previously appeared in The Huffington Post.
If we don’t/can’t stop population growth then reduce our numbers to what the planet can sustain without fossil resources, then we will instead collapse. In fact we are so far into overshoot, that a economic & population collapse seems inevitable.
There is no such thing as “sustainable” growth. Nothing else we could do is more important than stopping growth both in emissions & in population & then quickly reducing both.
Thank you Sheila for your comments.
I agree that overpopulation is at the source of many of the planet’s environmental problems. Here are two articles previously published on BoomerWarrior:
Let me know what you think of those articles.
Hi Sheila – Newsweek recently released an article about how we can easily stabilize the population and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can be done basically by elevating the status of women by providing them with the contraceptives that they want (no coercive one-child policy or anything of the sort): http://www.newsweek.com/2014/12/26/fixing-crowded-earth-293024.html . I summarized this article and offered a few more solutions to climate change that do not require citizens to sacrifice in this Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-moyer-phd/costeffective-solutions-t_b_6414052.html .
I suppose the term “sustainable growth” could have various definitions. Sustainable population growth probably is not in the cards. But we might have sustainable growth in intelligence, green technology, or green economy. The devastating environmental impacts we are seeing is not so much from the number of people on the planet, but from the destructive lifestyle of a relatively small segment of the world population – those of us in the developed world.
We are indeed far into overshoot, the fossil fuel powered “Green revolution” has reached it’s limits & some crops have started to decline because of climate change, soil damage, water shortages & fuel shortages.
I expect as the climate becomes more erratic, crop failures will climb & we will not have enough food to export to the starving, there are limits & we have exceeded them.
We have waited too long to even begin a real program that could stop population growth before we collapse, the inertia has become too great, there will be too much resistance, it’s now unstoppable short of mass murder & that is unthinkable!
Nature can’t hear our prayers, people will be praying in vain as they watch their children starve.
Nature is without mercy, you would know that if you know the life cycle of just a few parasites, the very thought of what some animals must endure before they finally die gives me shudders, hyenas often eat their prey alive as do wild dogs, nature knows no mercy, too often I’ve seen humans show no mercy to their human prey either.
That’s what makes war hell & it’s what we can expect more of same as civilization collapses & hunger becomes widespread & unrelieved.
Nothing living will have a chance if a human can find it, it will be eaten until nothing is left that can be caught or killed. That includes other humans!
We are animals with animal instincts & I think that what has doomed us to collapse again & again.
Male dominance can also be very destructive to our well being as a species. It’s males that start wars usually over territory or religion, it’s males that rule religion & religion is into control, wealth & power much like the dominant males in business, the military & in politics.
If our species can survive the hell of climate change, there will be only a few survivors living or more likely barely existing in small groups, well defended & armed, eating who knows what in the aftermath of collapse.
I expect to be long gone before then & since I never had children, I can die in the knowledge that I didn’t leave any to struggle on in a future world of horrors.
Sheila – Thanks for your comments.
Unlike you, I have children, a boy and a girl. Each is married and have a boy and a girl of their own. I have 4 grandkids. My family is the most precious thing I have in this world. You have painted a very grim picture of what awaits them, especially the grandchildren. I wish I could disagree with you. I hope you are completely wrong. But this little voice inside my head suspects that your insights about the future on this planet are likely pretty accurate. We are seeing signs of that future already.
And of course the addition of another 2 billion people by 2050 will only exacerbate the problems.
You may be right, but in one sense, being right is beside the point. If a child is in a burning building, you rush in to try to rescue the child rather than pause to predict whether the rescue effort will succeed or not. It’s time for all hands on deck to reduce the suffering as much as possible, no matter what the future holds. Not having kids oneself is a start but not enough.
Optimism and pessimism can be dangerous. If people are overly optimistic, they don’t act because they believe things will take care of themselves. If people are overly pessimistic, they don’t act because they think we’re doomed and so they say “what’s the use of acting?”
The only non-dictatorial solution I’m aware of to reduce the human population is to raise the status of women by means of equal rights, access to modern contraceptives (and the freedom to take or leave them), and access to education. When the status of women is raised, women naturally choose to have fewer kids and everyone and everything benefits.
I would want very much to be wrong but I fear, I might be right at least in part, I’m sure we will collapse in both the economy & the population & that will be a for certain nightmare for those who are young now..
I think the jury is still out on planetcide, I still have some hope that this extinction event won’t kill all life on earth because our situation is not the same as that that killed 95% of all live at the end of the Permian. We don’t have the equivalent of the Deccan traps.
Of course, no matter what we think or what the evidence is showing us, we should not give up until we are well and truly cooked & all hope is lost.
All hope is not yet lost, we must continue to fight against those that are pushing for more growth, against birth control, sex education & abortion, we must continue the fight to save endangered species, our oceans, our air & our water but these resources aren’t just ours, they belong to ALL living things something too many of us have forgotten.
As an atheist, I do not accept that humans have the right to kill other species just because they get in our way or for profit when that activity endangers those species.
While nature recognizes no right to life, as a so called “intelligent” animal, we MUST allow other living things the environment they need to live, I do not think we have a right to push other living things to the brink of extinction, other than parasites, to me this is unethical, stupid & not worthy of a species that claims to be superior to other living things.
I exempt parasites from extinction protection because they only do harm & no other living thing benefits from them.
Down with Malaria, hook worm, river blindness, flukes, sleeping sickness etc etc etc!
Those who believe that we can populate other worlds in orbit around other suns are hallucinating, they aren’t aware of the vast distances in space.
It takes days just to reach our moon, months to reach Mars, years to reach Jupiter, more years to reach Pluto, another world would take many generations & we don’t have the technology to be able to accomplish that, even a trip to Mars would be a deadly, one way journey.
Radiation, meteorites & when or IF they arrive on cold, airless Mars, they won’t survive for very long.
How will they grow food with such weak sunlight? One mistake, one critical failure of technology & it’s all over for them. They know it’s a one way trip so why go?
Why leave the only planet that can sustain them to travel to a small, cold, airless planet that can’t? What is the purpose to waste such young lives on a pointless adventure?
Our future lies here, on earth, our only home until the sun becomes a red giant & vaporizes our little planet.