Study says new generation of seniors emits more greenhouse gases

According to a survey by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the new generation of seniors is leaving behind a strong climate footprint. In 2005, the age group over 60 years old was responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. Ten years later, that rate was close to 33%.

“Older people used to be thrifty. The generation that experienced World War II was careful with the use of resources. The ‘new seniors’ are different,” says Edgar Hertwich, professor of Industrial Ecology at NTNU.


A new generation of seniors is leaving behind a strong climate footprint. Image: Volodymyr Baleha – Shutterstock

Taken in 2005, 2010 and 2015, including 27 EU countries, Norway, UK, US, Australia and Japan, the research, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that those known as “boomers” are the worst when it’s about carbon emissions.

Seniors are responsible for an increasing share of emissions in all 32 countries surveyed.

At the end of the Second World War, countries that fought on the side of the Allies, such as the USA, France and England, experienced an abrupt population growth that was dubbed, in literal translation, the baby boom, and which lasted from 1945 to 1964.

“The post-war baby boomer generation is the new old people. They have different consumption patterns than the ‘quiet generation’ that was born in the period 1928-1945. Today’s seniors spend more money on homes, energy consumption and food,” says Hertwich.

In 2005, the age group over 60 years old presented lower emissions than the age groups from 30 to 44 and 45 to 59 years old. In 2015, the elderly surpassed the levels of people between 30 and 44 years old, being at the same level as those between 45 and 59 years old.

According to the Eurekalert website, as boomers are aging across the western world, new seniors hitting a larger climate footprint is bad news.

NTNU postdoctoral fellow Heran Zheng believes there is good reason to assume that the 60+ group has overtaken the 45-59 group since 2015 and is now at the top of the emissions scale.

According to the study, older people are responsible for an increasing share of climate emissions in all 32 countries surveyed, with older people in Japan standing out, accounting for more than half of climate emissions.

According to Zheng, the most important message of the survey is that policymakers are aware that an aging population is making it difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The consumption habits of the elderly are stricter. For example, it would be an advantage if more people moved into smaller houses once the children left home,” he says. “We hope that more age-friendly housing communities, transport systems and infrastructure can be built.”

In addition to the age groups of the 1950s and 1960s being on their way to old age, life expectancy is increasing. According to the research, the size of the elderly population in the 32 countries of the study will double by 2050.

“Income declines in retirement, but the elderly in developed countries have accumulated value, especially in housing. Many of them have seen a huge increase in the value of their property. The elderly manage to maintain their high consumption through their wealth. This is especially true in carbon-intensive areas such as energy. An increasing proportion of this age group live alone. This is not the case in all countries, but it reflects the big picture,” says Zheng, who is affiliated with NTNU’s Department of Energy and Process Engineering.

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