Do the baby boomers owe millennials a clean planet? Or is it every generation for itself?
Consumption-crazed baby boomers are leaving their younger counterparts with a mountain of debt and a destabilized climate. Yet they still rule the roost politically. In his new book “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America,” Gen-Xer Bruce Gibney argues that the aging baby boomers who make up most of congress are holding up progress -- and it’s time they got out of the way.
“They’re gonna die before climate probably has a very significant impact on their lives,” Gibney maintains. “So if we the American people are the principals, if our agents don't share the same goals and time horizons as we do, then there's a risk of a serious mismatch.
“So I don't think we can expect a lot from the present political class and I’d like to see them move on. I think they're standing in the way of genuine progress.”
So, should the boomers take their Cadillacs and beachfront property and fade into the sunset? Sustainability expert Wilford Welch doesn’t think so. He believes that his generation owes it to their grandchildren not to lead the charge against climate change, but to offer support.
“I think it is time for the white boomers to get in totally engaged with the next generation and support them in being the leaders of the shift that has to take place,” say Welch. “Because we are the generation that has had the benefit of the fossil fuel generation. And now we have a responsibility to give something back to those people who now are going to get the effect of it.”
Welch is working to bridge the generation gap through organizations like the National Outdoor Leadership School and NatureBridge, which give young people an appreciation for the outdoors and the opportunity to learn wilderness skills.
Carleen Cullen founded Cool the Earth to help educate schoolchildren and their parents about climate change. She is optimistic about what the future of environmentalism and what the next generation can accomplish
“Kids of color, of every sort around the world, they really understand,” Cullen says. “They're not limited by our expectations of fossil fuel use and how we drive and how we get around in the world.
“They come to it with these open eyes…they can really drive their families to change and whole societies to change. And I think that's essential.”
Cool the Earth has encountered resistance in the past. “We were kicked out of a school in Texas,” Cullen remembers. “Camera crews, the whole deal. Because some of the parents were up in arms that we were gonna be teaching about climate science.
But over the past four years, she’s noticed a change in attitude.
“We go into schools in Kansas. We go into schools in the middle, in the heartland of the country. And there is virtually no resistance at all. So really it's changed significantly the amount of acceptance about climate science, which is just fantastic.”
Psychology professor Michael Ranney believes that, baby boomers or not, holding our public officials accountable for the planet’s future health is key.
“I think we should remind people that even after they're gone, they will be accountable for what they haven't done for the next generation,” Ranney says.
“And voting is a big way of making change.”