The Lowe Down: Who is responsible for environmental degradation?

Millennials and Gen Z are known to be particularly concerned with the environment. It is common to hear the claim that previous generations have created irreversible, devastating ecological issues. With the recent study by United Nations scientists claiming we have about a decade to get climate change under control, the idea that baby boomers are to blame is easy to jump to because younger generations weren’t alive when this damage was beginning. This could be considered a valid claim because the majority of CEOs of environment-harming companies such as coal mining and oil drilling are in this older generation, and lobbyists for these companies are as well. However, those CEOs and lobbyists are just a small percentage of the entire baby-boom generation. Many baby boomers argue they have not created these problems.

The baby-boom generation consistently supports politicians who make environmentally detrimental policies, but on the individual level many people this age do their part and prefer to conserve their waste and reduce their own carbon footprint. According to a study done by the MIT Age Lab, 57.3 percent of baby boomers say they care more about protecting the environment than they did in their ’20s, and 68.8 percent have changed their actions to try to be more environmentally friendly.

Discussing this with my grandmother gave me a different understanding of exactly why people her age conserve. It’s not out of necessity, it’s out of habit.

“When I was growing up, Monday was mill day,” she recalled.

On Mondays her father would go get feed for the cattle.

“I always liked to go with him because I wanted to pick out the sacks,” she remembered.

I found this an odd thing to want to pick out but she explained, “I knew the sacks would be my dresses.”

Since she grew up repurposing every item her family bought, she says that now she reuses things out of habit. She told me that the feed companies started putting designs on the feed sacks to try and get more buyers. These incentives for repurposing the bags worked and helped both consumers and the company. There is a way to implement these ideas now. The complacency of big businesses on environmental issues is unacceptable.

I also asked her how she felt about the aforementioned UN study and the idea that her generation has hurt the Earth worse than any other. She said she does worry about the future of the environment for her grandchildren and argued that the majority of people her age were concerned with their waste because they grew up unable to have excess and had to use everything they had.

Another relative of mine, my great grandmother who lived through the Great Depression, will try and find a way to reuse everything. At Christmas, she has been known to try and reuse wrapping paper.

“I think I do it because I was raised that way. Back then we lived off of very little” she told me.

When I asked her about how she felt about environmental regulations, she was disgusted by plastic bags and the issues they create in the ocean and with aquatic life. My great grandmother couldn’t fathom why people would throw away all their bags and let them build up like this.

Her final remark on the topic was simply, “If everyone would do their part, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

The issue is some people have a bigger part to do than others. The CEOs and lobbyists for companies who have large environmental impacts need to take public stances that are good for the environment.

My grandmother was right when she told me, “Individuals won’t ever all do their part without incentives.  There will have to be political change.”

Politicians must work across the aisle for environmental regulations. Their young constituents need this for their future and their older constituents don’t want to take the blame anymore for environmental issues they have failed to regulate.  The environment is nonpartisan, and no profit is worth the future.