2019 was the year of the battle between Boomer and Snowflake, with the worst animosity often flaring up over the climate crisis. But are young and old really at war here, or is it a more complex picture?
Over the last couple of months, headlines have been dominated by people coming together to demand action on the climate crisis, which has strode to the forefront of societal issues over the last century. As our sea levels rise and our planet gets hotter, more people across the UK are finding their voice and demanding that those mercilessly pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere be held accountable for their devastating damage. Though these demonstrations have been met with a large amount of support, they have also received plenty of hate, with much of it being directed at the younger generation, coming from the older members within society. However, with the lack of voting rights, business influence and, often times, respect, is there much else the younger generation can do, and is climate change being equally addressed by both the young and the old?
One example of demonstrations that have been very prominent within the media recently are those undertaken by the polarizing group Extinction Rebellion. These protests involve using mass-arrest as a tactic in order to vocalise their aims, which include forcing the government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, and demanding they fund action to halt biodiversity loss.
Heather Sarno is a 32 year old mother, teacher and an active member of Extinction Rebellion. Her actions include leafleting, protesting and behind-the-scenes work. She describes there being a “real mix” of ages of members within Extinction Rebellion, including students, parents and retired people. Studies from The National Centre for Social Research in 2018 showed that older people, in general, are less worried about climate change than younger people, and believe the consequences won’t be as bad. Heather believes that “younger people are probably more worried because they are having to deal with the consequences for far longer than the older generation.”
However, she has also met many older people who “feel a duty to do what they can to help sort out the issue for the younger generations”. “I’ve seen retired people getting arrested because they have nothing to lose in terms of being able to get a job and will do whatever they can to get governments to act on this issue,” she explains. In terms of scepticism shown by the older generation in relation to climate change, she doesn’t believe it is to do with age, but more where your information comes from. For Heather, most climate change deniers have a “vested interest in fossil fuel companies and rely on the public being unaware of the catastrophic effects of climate change”, which she describes as “unbelievably tragic”. “It’s very difficult to understand”, she laments, “because they are humans too and their kids / grandkids will suffer too”.
In recent times, there has been an increase in youth activism around the world. One possible factor in this increase is the growth of influence of social media within society. While it is used by many to share memes, talk to friends or rant about every mild inconvenience, lots of people, including young people, are using it to band together to rally behind a common message. We’ve seen examples of youth climate activism across the UK in recent times, such as the school strike for the climate, which involves school students taking time off from class to take part in demonstrations to demand action on climate change. These strikes begun after protests in 2018 outside the Swedish parliament, staged by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. At 16 years old, she has been making many headlines recently due to her environmental activism on climate change, including a recent, very emotional speech aimed at the world leaders at the UN. While her work has certainly drawn critics, such as Jeremy Clarkson who labelled her a “spoilt brat”, and left many mocking her speeches, there is no doubt that she has gotten lots of people talking. Greta Thunberg and the school strike for the climate is a prime example of young people using the best of their resources to tackle the climate crisis, and, outside of making changes to personal lifestyle, demanding those in power to take action against climate change is the best they can do. With more than 1.4 million taking part in a global strike on the 15th March 2019, many young people are showing commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
Heather believes that young people are “mostly” doing enough to combat the climate crisis, claiming “their activism on the whole is wonderful”. However, she believes it is “insane that children are having to strike from school to politely ask corporations and governments to not subject them to horrific weather conditions and the horrific consequences of climate change through their lack of action.” For young adults, however, she believes that it is “amazing” for them that they can use this as a “chance to change business as usual.” She describes this regeneration process as one that is “so exciting”, and that “we have the chance to develop a collaborative, authentic society”, one where we “respect each other, the planet and nature and end our days of being fooled into buying and doing unnecessary things that bring us no real fulfilment for the benefit of a small group of people who are destroying the planet and our connection with each other”. Possible solutions proposed by Extinction Rebellion include rewilding, expanding forests and electrification of public transport.
“Heartbreaking and incomprehensible”
On the other hand, regarding the older generation, Heather believes that while some are doing “incredible things”, others aren’t doing enough. She claims that there are “some people who will put profit and greed above everything else”, to which she described as “heartbreaking and incomprehensible.” However, she’s not sure that it is generational, stating “I think those in power need to change things.” She says that, firstly, the media has a “civic duty to tell the public the scale of the problems we are facing.” Furthermore, she states “I think heads of corporations, heads of fossil fuel companies, NGOs and world leaders all need to listen to experts and work together to put the most effective solutions into place as quickly as possible”, and also that “there will need to be individual changes, but the infrastructure and legislation need to be put into place and the public need to understand why they’re having to make changes – to protect future generations and our incredible planet.”
So, who is really leading the fight against the climate crisis? We hear countless stories about young people rising up to try to keep the ice caps intact, weather conditions non-catastrophic and the ocean from flooding our front door. And yes, we hear plenty of dismissive and judgemental remarks from the older generation in particular and it may seem like they are doing nothing to help. However, many older people, including prime minister Boris Johnson’s father Stanley, are taking part in climate protests and even, in many cases, using their employment status and age to their advantage and willingly being arrested. While it is mostly the older generation to blame for burning carbon, polluting the ocean and polluting the air, this is mainly the fault of the heads of corporations and fossil fuel companies who still refuse to listen and continue to put profit over the environment. There are still many climate change deniers out there, many belonging to the older generation, but this is not necessarily generational – it is purely a matter of biased and fake news. Climate change is undoubtedly real and as young people take to the streets in protest of the destruction of our planet, many grandparents are beginning to join them, to try to tackle the climate crisis and save our planet for generations to come.