Older adults should become leaders of the environmental movement.
Imagine the incongruity. The population with the least amount of remaining time on the planet would be those who care the most about humankind’s survival for generations to come.
In this proposed twist of fate, instead of our descendents inheriting horrible environmental messes due to our lack of commitment to protecting natural resources, they would praise their selflessness and ingenuity of their ancestors, the wise elders.
Longevity would become synonymous with legacy and the virtue of generativity – one generation helping another.
“People often do act for reasons that transcend self-interest and go beyond any conventional kind of reciprocity … a matter of ‘legacy motivation,’” explained Harry “Rick” Moody, former director for academic affairs with AARP in his essay for Generations (American Society on Aging, Winter 2009-2010)
Elder environmentalists, like politicians in their final term in office, would be motivated to build a lasting and positive reputation for generations to come.
There are a number of strategies to position older adults as environmentally responsible. Some are relatively easy to initiate. Others may take a lifetime or two to accomplish, which is precisely why change must be systemic and cultural rather than political.
Here are ten ways for older adults to apply their experience and resources to promote naturally resourceful longevity and demonstrate another positive opportunity to associate with longevity.
- Foremost, older adults must educate themselves about the science of the environment – about climatology and greenhouse gas emissions, resource conservation, energy efficiency and waste reduction; and the precarious balance between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
- Affordable senior housing residents could cultivate community-to-fork gardens to help feed themselves and neighbors. Partnerships with local schools/schoolchildren could add an appealing intergenerational element to the effort.
- Older adults could de-clutter their homes by donating reusable items to nonprofit groups and shelters. This is also an opportunity to involve volunteers from local schools.
- All types of older adult communities could become collection sites for recyclable materials; and allocate proceeds to environmental programs.
- Older adults could trade in their boat-size cars for more fuel efficient, hybrid or electric vehicles.
- Older adults could use their opportunities to travel internationally to become ecological ambassadors – sharing what the United States is doing well with foreigners; and sharing what other countries are doing better when they return home.
- As an encore career, entrepreneurial older adults could develop local nonprofit “service banks” whereby volunteers – of all ages, including healthy older adults — provide transportation and ridesharing for older adults in need in exchange for in-kind service in the future for themselves or family members.
- Governments could subsidize resource efficient renovations and retrofitting in older adults’ homes to help them save energy, protect against falls and continue to “age-in-place.”
- Senior legislators (and older adults as voters) could advocate for funding for high-speed rail and other types of public transit as long-term solutions to mass transportation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Advocating for more intentional and green-oriented urban planning could complement to this effort.
- Prominent aging-related organizations could join together to sponsor a national multimedia public-service initiative to encourage individual and societal efforts to protect the environment.
Let’s not forget that it’s the Boomer generation who gave birth to Earth Day and who throughout the nineties ranked the environment as among their highest priority in annual public opinion polls of concerns facing the country. This is the generation with the track record as well as resources and numbers to make an enduring environment impact statement. After all, as Laura Carstensen, the founder of Stanford’s Center on Longevity reminds us, “The number of older adults in the world is the only natural resource that’s actually growing.”
(Photo credit: Charles Trainor, Jr., Miami Herald)