This blog was originally published by Re-engage. Opinions are the author’s own.
When you think about climate change and the environment, do you think about older people? Perhaps not, but given that older people make up an increasingly large portion of the global population it’s perhaps not surprising that older people are also disproportionately impacted by climate crises.
Some of the reasons that older people are especially impacted are shared with other people with health vulnerabilities. When a heatwave comes along, difficulties are particularly marked for people who have health problems which also affect thermo-regulation: chronic cardiovascular conditions, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, Parkinson’s, or emphysema. And statistically, as we age, we experience more and more of such conditions.
Looking back over the first couple of decades of this century, of the 14,000 people who died in the French heatwave of 2003, 80% were over 75 years old. Similar data exists for other climate events such as hurricanes and typhoons – the death toll for older people was equally disproportionate at the time of Hurricane Katrina in the US or the earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan a decade ago.
It’s also true that socially isolated older people can find it hard to ask for help. Partly because they have limited social circles. And, because older people can feel very alone and very vulnerable, they may not feel able to take basic advice such as leaving windows open on hot nights.
What about the role of ageism in environmental debates? Climate activism is often portrayed as an area for young people, yet people over 50 express strong and passionate views on climate change and nature and wildlife. For those who don’t express strong views, it can be because they feel ill-informed or lacking expertise. Today’s young people may be exposed to climate change education in school, but older people weren’t, and little climate change communication to date has been targeted at older audiences.
So, as we face the impact of climate change on cost of living and the world around us, let’s remember:
- The over 65s are the fastest growing age demographic in the world.
- We know that vulnerable people are the most affected by climate change crises wherever we look in the world.
- We need to consult older people on how best to protect them from current and future crises but also on how to increase resilience.
- Older people have an important contribution to make in helping to prepare for change.