If you have you been to a climate event or rally lately you might have noticed plenty of grey hair to be found among the activists. Many of those working for climate solutions are part of the AARP set, those 50 years and older. Some are true senior citizens, collecting social security and some are at the beginning stages of the long transition to an empty nest.
Younger Americans and especially parents of younger children that do care about climate change are often too busy with parenting, household duties and paying bills to ever write a letter or visit a member of Congress. When many hit fifty, however, they are often looking at an empty nest and for the first time in a long time, may find themselves with a little time on their hands. They may want to act on long-frustrated desires to have their voice heard on climate issues. They are often considering, possibly for the first time, their legacy and effect on future generations.
Bill and Diana Johnson of Arlington, Virginia, retirees, baby boomers and committed climate activists are seeing the trend towards older activists, “People over fifty who are aware of this issue care about it. People with small children work, come home, take care of the kids and don’t have time for anything else. Your whole world revolves around your kids. Once you get a little older, now you have time to look at other things, you can get involved. Once you retire then definitely you have a lot more time.”
This trend towards older activists can be a good thing for the climate movement as older voters register and vote at a much higher rate than any other age group. According to the 2010 US Census, Americans ages 18 to 24 vote at the rate of 38%. Those ages 45 to 64, however, vote at a rate of 63.4%, while people 65 years and older vote at an a rate of 69.7%. This trend is continuing and growing. According to the AARP website, “In the 2012 elections, for the first time, older voters (50 years and older) made up the majority of voters.”
Many seniors are activists because they see the climate crisis as a huge problem and are concerned enough to act. Connie Cota of Arlington, Virginia and a grandmother said, “I watched a screening of a movie called “Do the Math” with Bill McKibben. There were several of us at that movie. Now, I want to do more. At the time, I wasn’t really aware of the trouble we are in. I believe we need to be good stewards of this earth. We need to take care of our planet but I believe we are in a new phase. I am seeing a lot of older folks getting involved but we need to involve the younger people too. It’s their future. And the people in the middle (age wise) are just too busy.”
Carol Margulies of Saratoga Springs, New York echoed those sentiments, “I am in my mid-fifties and I am highly aware of the need for comprehensive and immediate action on climate change. As recent “empty nesters”, my husband and I are at a period in our lives when we have the time to devote to action for this cause. I think we are part of a large group in this category, who could have a significant impact on policies in this area. Us “50 somethings” need to take responsibility for the kind of climate we are leaving for our children, grand-children and beyond.”
The target of all this activism is often members of Congress where the average age in the US House of Representative is 57 and the average age in the US Senate is 61. This can cut both ways as older law makers may not be as concerned for their own future but also may respond more favorably to activists closer to their age.
When asked why those over 50 years old should care about climate change, Carol Rawie, age 70 of Washington, DC responded, “Climate change is happening so fast and it is happening now. We need to leave this place as good as we found it. I think of my grandnephew and he will be 40 years old in 2050. We need to think of the next generation.”
It is often said that “to change everything, we need everyone” but maybe we need to realize that some are more able to act than others. This reality should inform our efforts.