Last May, I wrote a blog called “Grandmothers and The Fight Against Gun Violence,” which highlighted the important advocacy work seniors are doing to stem the tide of firearms violence. Since writing that blog, I have wondered about other issues that have spurred on senior advocacy throughout America. My first thought was there had to be seniors’ activism around global climate change. A threat to our planet as serious as climate change must have caused a spark in activism in the senior community, no? Unsurprisingly I only had to perform a simple Google search to find countless articles and information regarding ways climate change has impacted older Americans and how they are fighting for a better environment.
So what is climate change? The short answer: Climate change is an increase in the earth’s temperature which has caused sea levels to rise, ice masses to melt and highly concerning weather patterns to emerge. In addition, the U.S. Global Research Program concluded that human beings are the overwhelming cause of climate change, particularly because of the production of greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, these dramatic changes in the earth’s climate can lead to dire consequences for older Americans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate change conditions like extreme heat, poor air quality and hurricanes can be particularly problematic for seniors. All too often, seniors suffer from heart conditions and diabetes, which can be exacerbated because of the heat. Increasing temperatures also cause ticks and mosquitoes to increase their geographical reach and remain for longer periods of time. Older adults with already-weakened immune systems are at greater risk of being bitten by ticks and mosquitoes if rising temperatures continue. In addition, during hurricanes, seniors often need to be evacuated, which causes obvious obstacles. Around half of the people who died for reasons related to Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 75, with people over 65 accounting for half of the fatalities during Superstorm Sandy.
However, seniors are taking action! Predictably, older Americans are not advocating for their own self-interest, but speaking up for policies that protect the planet for future generations, like their grandchildren. Groups of senior citizens like Elders Climate Action (ECA) are strongly advocating for policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This group, consisting of 3,300 people, advocates their positions to members of Congress, gets their message out through social media and has monthly calls regarding ECA’s priorities. Furthermore, in 2017, ECA visited Washington DC, taking their message directly to the offices of every member of Congress, and participated in the People’s Climate March.
Given climate change’s devastating impact on our planet, how seriously is this crisis being taken by our elected officials? As is always the case, the answer is a mixed bag. The House of Representatives has taken encouraging steps by establishing the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which will help raise public awareness about climate change by holding hearings and organizing fact-finding trips. Sadly, some federally elected officials don’t believe action is required. Many politicians in Washington, D.C., despite scientific facts, have purposefully turned a blind eye towards climate change’s impact on our planet.
Like gun control, older Americans are picking up the slack for some of our elected officials, whose response on global climate change has been unacceptable. However, it’s nice to know we can count on the wisest people among us to lead the charge for a cleaner and better tomorrow.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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