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New rules of engagement for older people and climate change

Posted on 26 August 2010

A new study by researchers in the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York calls for better engagement of older people on climate change issues.

The report, prepared in partnership with the Community Service Volunteers’ Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP), urges the scrapping of stereotypes which suggest that older people are incapable of engagement, passive or disinterested in climate change.

Recent evidence from the older age sector highlight the inadequacies of current methods of information provision and community engagement on climate change

Dr Gary Haq

Instead, the research team recommends new approaches to engage older people, which promote direct interaction and the use of trusted agents that are sensitive to the personal circumstances older people face. The report sets out a ten-point plan to engage older people more effectively on climate change issues and greener living.

The report claims that a combination of climate change and an ageing population will have wide ranging socio-economic and environmental impacts. It acknowledges that older people may be physically, financially and emotionally less able to cope with the effects of climate-related weather events.

Lead author Dr Gary Haq, a human ecologist at SEI, said: “The engagement and participation of older people in climate change issues are important as older people can be seen as potential contributors to, and casualties of, climate change as well as potential campaigners to tackle the problem.”

‘Baby boomers’ (aged 50-64) currently have the highest carbon footprint in the UK compared with other age groups. They represent the first generation of the consumer society entering old age.  As they will move to older groups they will replace low carbon footprint habits and values with relatively high consumption. 

Dr Haq said: “Recent evidence from the older age sector highlight the inadequacies of current methods of information provision and community engagement on climate change. It is critical to implementing policies to tackle climate change and to address the needs of an ageing population.”

Dave Brown, co-author and member of RSVP, said: “While older people are concerned about climate change, they do not feel they will be directly affected. Nor do they feel they can personally take action to stop it. The older generation represent a missing voice and a missed opportunity.”

Notes to editors:

  • The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is a global science policy research institute headquartered in Stockholm and with its UK office based in the Environment Department at the University of York. Its mission is to bridge the gap between science and policy to achieve change for a sustainable future.
  • More about the University of York’s Environment Department can be found on www.york.ac.uk/environment/
  • According to the Government’s Actuary Department, by 2050 people aged over 50 will represent 30 per cent of the UK population compared to 2006.
  • SEI’s updated calculations show that baby boomers (aged 50-64)  have one of the highest carbon footprints (13.5 tonnes/CO2) in the UK compared other age groups Seniors (aged 65-70) have a carbon footprint of 12. 5 tonnes/CO2 while Elders (aged 70+) have a footprint of equal to the UK average of 12 tonnes.
  • As the ‘baby boomers’ move into the older groups they will replace low carbon footprint habits and values with relatively high consumption habits. This "replacement effect" is crucially important and identifies the need for a much clearer targeted effort on climate change and consumption aimed at this demographic group.
  • The ten-point plan for engagement of older people in climate change issues:
    1. Abandon old stereotypes
    2. Get to know your target audience
    3. Use trusted brands
    4. Use peer to peer communication
    5. Use positive messages
    6. Use the right “frames”
    7. Show real life examples
    8. Develop an inclusive dialogue
    9. Maximise participation
    10. Ensure the setting is right for change

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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