How can baby boomers be enticed into environmental activism?
They are an untapped resource for the environment movement and could be transformed from a barrier to change into a force for change.
For anyone who hasn’t heard the term, a baby boomer is a person aged 70 or older who was born during the post World War II baby boom. Most of them have reached the age of retirement, and in many countries they comprise a large percentage of the population.
Why should baby boomers be encouraged to act on behalf of the environment?
Because they’re bored.
So many baby boomers are bored. Once they’ve played golf, trimmed the roses and babysat their grandkids, they’re bored. You’ve seen them, sitting in cafes on weekdays, gazing at the ocean or scrolling lovingly through photos of their grandkids. You’ve seen them streaming up and down the highways in their caravans on seemingly endless holidays.
Of course, some of them fill their days with fun, constructive and meaningful activities before enjoying the spare time they have earned. Many of them, however, are searching for ways to occupy their time after leaving the workforce.
Because they are capable. Before retiring they raised families, ran businesses, managed organisations and worked in occupations as diverse as teaching, medicine, engineering, trades, travel…They still possess the skills and attributes which are required to perform those roles, and they offer so much to the environment movement.
They have time.
One great advantage of baby boomers is that they have spare time to devote to activism. Younger activists often have to make the choice between paying the rent and fighting for the environment – there are only so many hours in a day. Baby boomers have a lot of time.
They have grandchildren. Those grandchildren will inherit the planet that we are creating. Grand parents would do anything for their grandchildren and the environment movement would do well to link the daily actions of retirees to the state of the planet when their grand children grow up.
From hindrance to help.
Baby Boomers collectively stifle environmental activism. They generally vote for conservative parties which commonly reject sustainable practices and support destructive policies. If baby boomers become more involved in the environment movement, they might change the way they vote, and convince their peers to do the same. Baby boomers also consume conservative, mainstream media which often denies the climate crisis and supports destructive practices such as the use of fossil fuels.
Retirees remember life before environmental destruction. They remember swimming in local ponds or rivers near their house, which are now too polluted for swimming.
They remember breathing clean air in major cities before modern machines choked these cities with smog.
They remember eating fruit from trees which grew naturally in their backyard. They remember a diet with far less processed food.
This is a reality from the recent past, and baby boomers lived it. They can also remind us of this reality and the fact that we can return many natural areas to their natural state.
Ironically, retirees might reject sustainability but they are the original conservationists. Baby Boomers are frugal. Frugality is akin to conservation because it embraces the philosophy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Baby Boomers have always found multiple uses for items and repaired them again and again before, if ever, throwing them out. They reject the meaningless consumption which drives environmental destruction and they already live the principles of conservation.
Perhaps the environment movement needs to adjust or target its narrative to demonstrate to baby boomers that some of their daily habits and their upbringing are already helping to protect the earth.
Similarly, the environment movement may need to debunk stereotypes of environmental activism in order to win over baby boomers. Many retirees associate the term environmental activist with a long haired, dreadlocked hippy chaining themselves to a bulldozer. However, activism can take many forms.
Some retirees are already activists. They march in protests, sign petitions, contact local politicians and organise actions. Famous activists include the Knitting Nannas in Australia and indigenous activists throughout the world.
The Knitting Nannas call themselves “…an international disorganisation where people come together to ensure that our land, air and water are preserved for our children and grandchildren. We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against the greedy, short-sighted corporations that are trying to rape our land and divide our communities.”
That’s right. They’re a group of women who sit in a certain place (outside a politicians’ office) and knit…
Indigenous activist groups are traditionally led by elders. They hold the knowledge of the land and culture that is threatened by environmental destruction, and they hold the respect of the youth in their communities, who look to them for leadership.
Baby boomers could be engaged in so many ways.
Is there anything more powerful than a baby boomer with an email account?
They could be tasked with sending emails to politicians or local businesses to encourage positive action for the environment. They could compile and manage databases or develop educational resources. They could manage and coordinate local groups or hold small-scale events in their local community – or they could inspire national or international action which forces genuine and lasting change. They can do this because they employed similar skills during their working lives and they haven’t lost these skills.
So, how do we get baby boomers involved in environmental activism?