Boomers Account for Nearly a Third of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Finds

Senior Friends Poolside with Drinks
Ronnie Kaufman / The Image Bank / Getty Images

As baby boomers age, they are upping the carbon footprint of the senior demographic.

A new study published in Nature Climate Change March 9 found that the share of national greenhouse gas emissions contributed by people over 60 rose from around a quarter to nearly a third between 2005 and 2015. 

“The post-war ‘baby boomer’ generation are the new elderly. They have different consumption patterns than the ‘quiet generation’ that was born in the period 1928-1945. Today’s seniors spend more money on houses, energy consumption and food,” Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Industrial Ecology Programme professor Edgar Hertwich said in a press release. 

The research focused on household greenhouse gas emissions by age group in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Japan, Norway and 27 EU countries. It looked at the years 2005, 2010 and 2015. In 2005, people over 60 had a lower footprint than people aged 30 to 44 or 45 to 59, accounting for 25.2 percent of national consumption-based emissions. By 2015, they accounted for 32.7 percent of emissions, tying with the 45 to 59 age group. Since baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1965, as The Times noted, both of the highest-emitting age brackets in 2015 included members of this generation. Hertwich predicted that the over 60 group’s emissions would have only risen since 2015, making seniors the age group that contributes the most to the climate crisis

“Older people used to be thrifty,” Hertwich said in the press release. “The generation that experienced World War II was careful about how they used resources. The ‘new elderly’ are different.” 

The same trend was present in all 32 countries surveyed. In Japan, seniors accounted for more than half of the country’s total emissions. Meanwhile, seniors in the U.S. and Australia had the highest per capita average emissions, which was double the average in Western countries, the study authors said. 

The changing spending habits of seniors were responsible for the shift, the study authors said. However, there are policy changes that might offset the impact of seniors’ rising emissions.

“The consumption habits of seniors are more rigid. For example, it would be an advantage if more people moved to smaller homes once the kids moved out,” Hertwich in the release. “Hopefully more senior-friendly housing communities, transport systems and infrastructure can be built.”

The findings come as the world’s population is aging overall, The Hill reported. The world’s elderly population is projected to double between 2019 and 2050. However, the study offered one silver lining. The emissions of all age groups did actually decrease between 2005 and 2015. The group that reduced their emissions the most in this period was the under-30 age bracket, which saw their emissions fall by 3.7 tonnes (approximately 4 U.S. tons) in a decade, according to the press release. The over-60 group had the smallest decline, at 1.5 tonnes (approximately 1.7 U.S. tons).

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