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Why Is Gaia Angry With Me?
You may not carry a laptop case made out of recycled fixed-gear bicycle tires. And it has probably been a while since you used yak dung to heat your home. But, hey, you’re an environmentalist. At least, that’s what you and your fellow boomers tell those pollsters whenever they ask.
So why is your carbon footprint bigger than the footprint of the T. rex that turned into the oil you’re using in your Prius?
When researchers tried to calculate carbon dioxide emissions by age group in the United States, guess who scored worst? You in the old Grateful Dead shirt — we’re talking to you.
In a study in 2011, Emilio Zagheni, a demographer then working at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, looked at nine energy-intensive categories of activity, among them electricity and gas use and air travel. He found that as people age, they are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions because they drive more, for example, and use more electricity. With their income generally higher, the study found, middle-age people were also more likely to take trips.
But boomer-bashers take note: you may soon need another scapegoat. As people get older, the researchers said, they tend to spend more money on activities that produce fewer emissions. Why ski at Vail when you can hang out in a urologist’s waiting room? So as the overall age of the United States goes up, the study suggests, carbon dioxide emissions may go down.
Beyond that, the Pew Research studies in which boomers identified themselves as environmentalists found that, in fact, people in this generation do appear to be more progressive on environmental issues than older people. They are more likely, for example, to side with Gen Xers and millennials on supporting federal spending on wind, solar and hydrogen technology. The same is true for spending on mass transit and tax incentives for buying hybrid and electric cars.
Interestingly, the boomers surveyed also parted company with the so-called silent generation Americans on global warming. There is wide agreement among the age groups that the climate is changing. But older people are less likely to attribute it to human activity.
Why this is may not be our place to say. Perhaps some of the silents remember the last ice age (“It wasn’t so bad, if you dressed right”) and think the rest of us are whiners.
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