While millennials often get a bad rep, a new study suggests that when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s baby boomers who are the ‘bad guys’.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have revealed that people over 60 are now responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and are likely at the top of the emissions ladder.
‘Older people used to be thrifty. The generation that experienced World War II was careful about how they used resources. The “new elderly” are different,’ said Professor Edgar Hertwich, an author of the study.
While millennials often get a bad rep, a new study suggests that when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s baby boomers who are the ‘bad guys’ (stock image)
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have revealed that people over 60 (represented by red in the graph) now contribute more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and are likely at the top of the emissions ladder
Western European countries with the highest emissions from over-60s
In the study, the researchers analysed greenhouse gas emissions in 27 EU countries, Norway, the UK, the US, Australia and Japan, categorising them by age in 2005, 2010 and 2015.
They found that in 2005, over-60s accounted for lower emissions than the 30 to 44 and 45 to 59 age groups.
However, by 2015, over-60s had surpassed the 30 to 44-year-olds levels and were at the same level as the 45 to 59-year-olds.
And in the seven years since 2015, the researchers believe it’s likely the over-60s group has surpassed the 45 to 59-year-olds to become the top of the emissions ladder.
‘The post-war “baby boomer” generation are the new elderly,’ said Dr Hertwich.
‘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.’
In all 32 countries studied, the study found that over-60s are responsible for an increasing share of emissions – with seniors in Japan now accounting for a whopping 51 per cent of emissions.
According to the researchers, emissions that the elderly account for tend to be more local, while younger groups consume more imported goods, which lead to emissions in other countries.
‘Income shrinks in retirement, but seniors in developed countries have accumulated value, primarily in housing,’ Dr Zheng said.
‘A lot of them have seen a large increase in the value of their property.
‘The elderly are able to maintain their high consumption through their wealth. This happens especially in carbon-intensive areas like energy.
An increasing proportion of over-60s now live alone, according to the researchers (stock image)
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‘An increasing proportion of this age group live alone. This isn’t the case in all countries, but it reflects the overall picture.’
In terms of specific countries, the study found that the elderly in Australia and the US are the worst emitters, contributing an average of 21 metric tons each in 2015.
Over in Europe, over-60s in Luxembourg were found to be the highest emitters, with an average of 19 metric tons per person, while seniors in the UK, Norway, Finland and Ireland were also high emitters.
At the other end of the spectrum, elderly people in Romania, Lithuania, Hungary, Croatia and Estonia accounted for the fewest emissions per person.
While emissions are rising among the elderly, they’re decreasing among the young, according to the study.
People under the age of 30 cut their annual emission by 3.7 metric tons from 2005 to 2015, while 30-44-year-olds reduced their emissions by 2.7 metric tons during this time.
The researchers highlight that with life expectancy increasing around the world, the elderly population is set to double between 2019 and 2050.
They hope their findings will highlight the need of anticipating mitigation strategies for an ageing society in the future.
People under the age of 30 cut their annual emission by 3.7 metric tons from 2005 to 2015, while 30-44-year-olds reduced their emissions by 2.7 metric tons during this time (stock image)
Dr Heran Zheng, co-author of the study, said: ‘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.
‘Hopefully more senior-friendly housing communities, transport systems and infrastructure can be built.’
The study was published in Nature Climate Change.