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Boomers could be great climate activists - if they were more concerned about it

A woman with silver hair and a turquoise shirt stands next to a woman in a navy T-shirt with short brown hair and glasses. They stand on the grass in front of a tent, under which is displayed information about climate change.
Ben Thorp

Public opinion surveys show older Americans are less concerned about climate change than young people. But some experts say older Americans may be an untapped resource when it comes to climate activism.

In Mount Pleasant, Marie Koper is part of the Citizens Climate Lobby, an activist group made up mostly of retirees here. On a recent morning she was at the farmer’s market. 

“Are you among the 77% of Americans who are concerned about climate change and the impacts it’s having on us right now?” Koper asks a customer.

Some people pointedly ignore Koper’s booth. Others mutter something about not having time. 

“Would you like to learn a little bit more about solutions for climate change?”

“No thank you,” a woman replies.

After one failed attempt, Gisela Moffet, a member of the group, bemoans people’s lack of interest. 

“How can they say they are not interested in learning something?” she asks.

Ultimately, Koper and Moffet say, their goal is just to reach people. Not necessarily convince them.

“Arguing with people is not persuasive on any large scale,” says Koper.

But the National Citizens Climate Lobby does have a policy goal: A carbon fee and dividend. A bill currently in Congress – and supported by the group – would require companies to pay $15 for every metric ton of CO2 pollution. Every year that fee would increase by $10. Supporters say they believe it would drastically drive down emissions. And, as a bonus, the money made from the fee would be sent back to citizens to help offset the increased costs of oil and gas.

At a recent meeting of the Climate Lobby, which often features national speakers streamed via YouTube, Andrew Jones, a researcher from MIT told the group that his climate modeling showed the group’s carbon fee was one of the most effective methods for keeping the planet from breaching two degrees of warming, which scientists say would be disastrous. 

“There’s no silver bullet, but the most silver-ish bullet I can find is a carbon fee and dividend,” Jones says.

In advocating for a carbon fee, Marie Koper and the Citizens Climate Lobby push for bipartisanship and politeness in engaging with people.

At the Chippewa River Water Festival in early July, Peter Koper, Marie’s husband, gave a short speech about the carbon fee between music sets. Peter talked about the recent floods in Michigan that have impacted farmers.

A man in a wheelchair on the left, and a handful of people at tables on the right listen to a woman with silver hair, who stands facing them at the front of a classroom.
Credit Ben Thorp / WCMU
Marie Koper leads a Citizens Climate Lobby meeting.

“It’s a big problem,” he told the crowd. “It needs a big solution. But the dividend is the answer to that. What I like most about it is it’s not a hope, it’s not a wish, it’s not a theory. It’s House Resolution 763.”

Mick Smyer is a professor of psychology and founder of the Graying Green initiative, which looks to engage older Americans in sustainability efforts. He says this demographic is an untapped resource when it comes to climate activism. 

“They have time, they have experience, they know how to get things done and they are very much concerned about future generations,” says Smyer.

Smyer said the generalization that older American’s care less about climate change holds true among Republicans but less so for Democrats. 

“But there’s a large group in the middle which I call the worried middle,” Smyer says. “Fifty to 60 percent of older adults know something is going on with climate but don’t know what to do about it. They are ready to be activated and engaged if they are shown a path forward.”

Gisela Moffet is already there.

“I have five grandchildren,” she says. “I am very concerned about [the climate] and especially how much faster it is changing.”

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