I have also observed an argument – often from younger people, I admit – along the lines of “the older generations have destroyed our planet” or “older people don’t care about the environment”.
But are these assumptions against older generations well founded?
I would suggest not, especially when it comes to the natural environment.
Biodiversity decline – an equally serious and interrelated crisis to climate change – is destroying plants and animals, both in the UK and abroad.
This week, Bright Blue published a new report – Nature positive? Public attitudes towards the natural environment.
This investigated the UK public’s attitudes towards the responsibility for, and actions required, to protect and restore the natural environment, both here and overseas.
A recurring theme was the differences in attitudes and behaviours between younger and older generations.
In its recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development, the Government committed to making combating climate change – and protecting biodiversity – key international priorities in the decade ahead.
Despite younger generations seeming to be more vocal on environmental issues, we found that older people (those over the age of 55) were more likely to consider both climate change and nature conservation to be the most important foreign policy priorities for the UK Government than younger people (those between the ages of 18 and 34).
We were also interested in assessing how the public felt about new policy ideas to protect and restore the natural environment.
Greater information about the impact of a product on the natural environment could allow consumers to make more informed choices when deciding what products to purchase, possibly resulting in the public being less inclined to buy those which are identifiable as harmful.
We tested whether the public would support the Government introducing mandatory labelling to give sufficient information to inform consumers, or whether the Government should simply ban products which are harmful to the natural environment.
Whilst both policies were widely backed, they were more strongly supported by older people.
We noticed the same trend with other new policy ideas that we tested as well, such as higher fines for littering, and bans on non-flushable wet wipes and non-recyclable black plastic.
Older people also report being more likely to be taking action to protect and restore the natural environment too – as evidenced by BBC reports this week on community litter-picking schemes in Scarborough and elsewhere.
We know that to reduce our impact on the natural environment, we’re going to have to change our ways: recycling; reducing food waste; buying in-season produce; purchasing long lasting products; assisting wildlife by feeding birds, putting up nest boxes and growing plants that support insect life; and, buying less and reusing more.
And guess what?
For each of those behaviours, older people are more likely to already be doing them than younger people.
It is not beneficial to advancing the environmental cause, nor is it accurate to purport that older generations don’t care about the environment.
As our research has demonstrated, in many instances, it is the older generations who prioritise and do more to protect the natural environment.
It was the author and Orwell Prize-winning journalist Anatol Lieven in his book Climate Change and the Nation State who talked about the need to move away from our fast-paced consumer society and embrace the ‘Blitz Spirit’ demonstrated by that generation who lived through the Second World War – buying less, making do with what we’ve got and ensuring that things last.
In which case, we could all learn a thing or two from generations gone by.
Patrick Hall is a Senior Research Fellow at the think tank Bright Blue.
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