The face of the global effort to stop climate change is a young woman, Greta Thunberg, who famously criticized the older generation for not acting to save the environment. “How dare you?” was her refrain in the fiery speech that brought her to public attention. Some Baby Boomers have responded by becoming more strident in their efforts, both here and abroad.
In recent protests in London, organized by the environmental group Extinction Rebellion, there were enough older people among the 500 arrested that one BBC anchor called them the “gray greens.”
Third Act was formed for those 60 and older who want to build a fairer and more sustainable nation and planet.
“We’re going to try and organize ‘experienced Americans’ — i.e., people over 60 like me — around issues of climate justice, racial justice, economic justice,” McKibben tweeted. “Our generations have done their share of damage; we’re on the verge of leaving the world a worse place than we found it.”
And last year Jane Fonda led protests in Washington D.C., called Fire Drill Fridays, to bring attention to environmental issues. Fonda was arrested five times.
What Fuels Older Activists
Among the older activists, a couple of key motivators have emerged: Guilt for their generation’s lack of action earlier, and a desire to protect their children and grandchildren.
At the demonstrations in London, many of those marching from the Tate Modern museum over the Millennium Bridge to the financial district, held aloft signs with comments such as, “I would be arrested for my grandchildren’s future” and “Grandparents against climate change.”
People over 60 have skills, resources, time, sometimes grandchildren, and, often, wealth.
John Lynes, 93, a great-grandfather and retired engineer, told the Washington Post: “Full stop, we are responsible — no doubt about it.”
“Nowadays, increasingly, it’s older people taking part. That’s true of my experience,” he said. “If you have a job to lose, need to ask someone for a mortgage or are looking after children, it’s not that easy for you to be arrested. For me, what does it matter if I’m arrested?”
McKibben of Third Act echoes those sentiments, believing that people over 60 can be hugely effective. They have skills, resources, time, and “sometimes a lot of grandchildren,” he says, and, often, they also have wealth.
Sue Williamson, 68, a retired social worker and grandmother, was among the hundreds blocking traffic outside the Bank of England on Thursday. She said she was willing to be arrested by one of the dozens of officers looking on at the scene. “You got to make the most of the years you got left,” she told the Post regarding her activism.
A new poll in England this past week suggests that the climate is becoming an important concern for older people more broadly. Given an open-ended prompt about major issues facing the country, 42 percent of those age 55 to 64 and 35 percent of those over 65 mentioned climate, compared with 24 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds.