How Older Americans Are Shaping a Sustainable Legacy

Mar 26, 2024 | Climate Change, ESG

As the world tackles climate change, older Americans from the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers play a crucial role. Every day, 10,000 people turn 60, adding to a group rich in experience, resources, and influence. This group can make a big difference in fighting the world’s tough problems. It is key to making the changes we need to protect our planet for ourselves and future generations.

The older Americans who worked towards, and benefitted from, huge changes like the civil rights movement, the push to end world wars, and women’s liberation—are now at a juncture where these improvements are at risk. The escalating climate crisis and growing authoritarianism, which are linked in the person of Donald Trump, threaten the progress previously made. And many seniors feel an urgent need to do something about it.

Witnessing Change, Embracing Action

People who grew up in the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st have seen firsthand how our Earth’s climate and nature have changed. The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers remember the clean, untouched Earth shown in the Apollo mission photos. But as Bill McKibben noted in a Yale interview, “the world doesn’t look like that anymore; the top isn’t white like that still.” This sharp change drives many older Americans to want to do something. They realize they have added a lot to carbon emissions and can also make a big difference in fixing it. McKibben points out, “If you’re 70 now, you’ve lived through about 80% of all human carbon emissions. We know we’re part of the problem and that we can do a lot to help, and that drives us to act.”

Also, seniors love their children and grandchildren. They want to leave behind a healthier, more just world for these descendants. That goal goes beyond short-term personal interests. It inspires them to leverage their assets and influence for the greater good.

Leveraging Power for a Sustainable Legacy

This motivation sparked some older Americans to start a non-profit named Third Act. They want their generation to use their wealth and voting power for the environment. This effort isn’t just about money. It’s about using their life experience for important causes. Older Americans own much of the country’s wealth and they vote a lot. This gives them a special chance to help solve the climate crisis by pushing for both better policies and better investments.

Sustainable investing is a great way for these generations to help build a greener economy. By putting their money into businesses that care about the environment, society, and good leadership (ESG), older investors can help solve the climate crisis. This strategy also aligns with the risk-averse nature of the Silent Generation, because ESG investing acts as a proxy for quality. Companies with low ESG scores, like Chevron and BP, are dinosaurs who face stranded asset risk and increased regulatory and legal headwinds. Whereas companies with high ESG scores, like Microsoft, Costco, NVIDIA, and Eli Lilly, are the “blue-chips” of the present and the future. Older people have the wisdom to know which are the better long-term investments.

Politics (Biden)

The leadership of President Joe Biden, the sole president from the Silent Generation, shows how much government policies can help fight climate change. Through initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act, the climate disclosure rule, and the creation of the American Climate Corps, Biden’s administration has laid the groundwork for green manufacturing, renewable energy investment, and the cultivation of a skilled workforce prepared to tackle climate change challenges. These steps have helped America mitigate and adapt to climate change. And they have also reduced income inequality — restoring the kind of stable middle-class jobs that prevent the rise of MAGA cultists like Donald Trump. It all demonstrates the tangible benefits of experienced leadership.

With another election looming between Trump and Biden, casting a vote for Joe Biden transcends a mere endorsement of his climate policies; it’s a resounding vote for the principles of democracy itself. Biden’s administration has not only demonstrated an unwavering commitment to tackling the climate crisis through comprehensive policy measures like the Inflation Reduction Act but has also steadfastly upheld the values of democratic governance, transparency, and the rule of law. In a world where the health of our planet and the integrity of our democratic institutions are increasingly interlinked, supporting Biden represents a dual commitment to safeguarding the environment and fortifying the democratic processes that enable meaningful climate action. It’s a recognition that true progress in combating climate change requires a robust democratic framework where voices are heard, science is respected, and collective action is mobilized for the greater good.

Politics (Trump)

Conversely, casting a vote for Donald Trump represents a stark departure from these principles. In his previous term, Trump appointed the CEO of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State and withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accords, moves that underscored a blatant disregard for the pressing global climate crisis. Moreover, Trump’s tenure was marked by a troubling disdain for democratic norms, culminating in his incitement of the January 6 attack on the Capitol in a violent bid to overturn a fair election. His also lies constantly about election fraud, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This represents an existential threat to the democratic process.

Therefore, in the context of upcoming elections, a vote for Biden emerges not only as a commitment to environmental stewardship but as a crucial stand for democracy itself, reaffirming a dedication to principles that ensure a sustainable planet and a vibrant democratic society for future generations. Older Americans possess the wisdom to make the right call here.

The Need to Act

Both the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers play a vital role in confronting the climate crisis. Their unique position, characterized by a wealth of resources, a deep connection to the past, and a vested interest in the future, empowers them to lead the charge towards a more sustainable and equitable planet. By investing in a way that emphasizes principles and performance, and by exercising their political power wisely, older generations can not just participate in the fight against climate change, they can lead it. In doing so, they will ensure that their legacy is one of stewardship, resilience, and hope of a better world for their children, grandchildren, and all future generations.