Blame The Boomers: They Have Highest Carbon Footprint Of Any Generation, And It Is Going To Get Worse

© © MPIDR, Emilio Zagheni

Wendy Koch at USA today looks at a new study by demographer Emilio Zagheni of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, which finds that Individual CO2 emissions decline in old age. Wendy starts her article with:

Much has been written about the economic impact of an aging population in which fewer workers exist to support retirees. Now, a new study looks at how it could affect climate change, finding that individual carbon dioxide emissions decline in old age as the elderly drive less and buy fewer carbon-intensive goods.

But I think Wendy is reading the wrong thing into this story, and is reading the wrong side of the graph.

© MPIDR, Emilio Zagheni

First of all, when one looks at it in a little more detail, only gasoline usage significantly falls off after age 65; natural gas and electricity just keep rising until they are 80, I suppose because they are all turning up the thermostat and sitting at home listening to Rush.

Department of Labor/Public Domain

But the real demographic elephant in the room, or pig in the python, is that we're just getting started. The first American baby boomers just turned 65 this year, and the biggest bump in the boom, 1957, doesn't hit age 65 until 2022. Any silver lining in this cloud isn't visible for decades.

© MPIDR, Emilio Zagheni

No matter what you look at except electricity, it peaks around sixty. And the peak of the baby boom doesn't hit sixty for another six years. We have miles to go before we sleep. Sarah at Grist got it right:

USA TODAY asks if this means that old age could mitigate climate change. Which it would, if we replaced all the 65-year-olds with 80-year-olds and didn’t allow any new 65-year-olds, but for some reason people tend to frown on the Logan’s Run approach. What really could mitigate climate change is if everyone used less stuff. But we're just going to blame the baby boomers for everything and have done with it.

What the study really shows isn't a gradually improving situation (that's 30 years away) but a demographic carbon bomb with a very short fuse.

Read the summary of the report here and the full report here.

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Conspicuous Consumption