- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
- Published: 30 August 2019
Studies have determined that residential energy consumption rises as one ages, with those over the age of 70 using the most energy of any age cohort. It is thought that older, less efficient appliances and a greater need for heating and cooling are likely contributing factors. The aging of our society is a significant concern when considering energy use. Equally concerning are the disproportionate impacts extreme weather wreaks on older adults.
The mechanisms by which the body regulates temperature are less efficient for elders, who therefore are less able to cope with excess heat. Extreme heat, says Patrick Kinney of Boston University’s School of Public Health, puts particular stress on older adults, adding that certain medications like those that manage blood pressure and cholesterol reduce the body’s ability to regulate heat. ("Older People Are Contributing to Climate Change, and Suffering From It," Paula Span, New York Times, May 24, 2019). Precautions to manage one’s health can be taken to reduce risk, such as staying indoors during extreme heat, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
However, extreme cold weather poses an even greater danger than high temperatures. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 63% of weather related deaths were attributed to hypothermia or exposure to natural cold. This report also confirmed that elders have the highest rate of weather related deaths.
The impact of climate change can be addressed with efforts designed to reduce the underlying causes. Older adults are playing active roles in addressing the issues of climate change through volunteerism and activism. Groups such as Elders Climate Action are working hard to change our national policies and conversations about our environment. Elders can leverage their lobbying influence, as the baby boomer generation comprises 36 percent of the electorate. Being the largest and most consistent voting block, older Americans really can make a difference. As a generation who impacted the Vietnam War and civil rights, it is time to organize once again to influence policy to create an environment sustainable for future generations.