So Many Old (White) Men: The Struggle of New-Age Climate Activism

By Staff Writer Busola Awobode

bawobode@umassd.edu

Currently, we are surrounded by predominantly white, male world leaders well beyond the prime of their lives. The average age of world leaders has increased since 1945 with a large percentage of them being above the age of 60, some even as old as 80. The exception would be select European countries who have younger, sometimes female leaders like Finland Prime Minister, Sanna Marin (age 34). Nevertheless, the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump (age 74) and Joe Biden (age 78) has further spurred the discourse about older leaders and their ability to govern.

While the health of older leaders is often cited as a major deterrent for effective leadership, new research suggests that 70 isn’t exactly decrepit. The life expectancy for men has risen since the 1990s and modern medicine like hip replacement surgery has made it possible for older adults to remain active. Additionally, there has been a decline in the risk of dementia in adults 75 and older since 1995. Thus, a leader in good health should presumably have the capacity to lead. 

Yet, health is not the only problem older leaders face as they often cannot be current and innovative. This often hinders progress and creates friction between older leaders and the younger more progressive generation. Given the predictability of this conflict, it is unsurprising that the present leaders have again clashed with younger individuals. However, this conflict seems more poignant as the issues at hand are more dismal; one being global warming and the effects of climate change. 

Since the onset of the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have been the world’s predominant source of energy. By 1961, coal had become the primary generator of electricity in most American homes. It wouldn’t be until almost 20 years after that climate change would become a national concern and another 20 before the effects predicted would even begin to show. Thus, our present leaders were raised in an era when climate change was a non-issue and fossil fuels were praised for usability and cost-effectiveness. Thus, the controversial air surrounding climate change stems from the promotion of these archaic views. So, while not all older leaders actively imbibe or perpetuate these beliefs, the general attitude of indifference results in the lack of legislation passed under their authority that has brought us to the brink of destruction. 

Meanwhile, global warming continues to ravage the earth. Currently, the IPCC has declared a “code red for humanity” a dire warning preceded by an “unbroken cascade of deadly, unprecedented weather disasters bulked up by climate change” which will not dwindle without rapid action. Thus, we see younger voices expressing disappointment at the deterioration of the planet at the hands of generations before and their unwillingness to be sacrificially proactive moving forward. From Sweden to Seattle individuals as young as 11 are bitterly protesting the gross mismanagement of our planet, the urgency bleeding through their voices. And while they are not the first wave of climate change protesters, they are louder, more educated, coordinated, and most importantly have the power of social media.

Unfortunately, the fate of the planet rests on a fight for power among the timeworn and the novel generations. Many older individuals claim that new-age activists are passionate because they possess opportunity and ample time, thus, insinuating that the fight for climate change is a jobless man’s work devoid of responsibility or pragmatism. With these kinds of petty slights and rampant ideology, it is unsurprising that little progress has been made. So, the question is: can the older generation really serve us in this fight, or will it all have to fall on young people?

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