Our extortionate levels of consumption, pollution and resource depletion can be easily explained; it’s your parents’ fault. Those who grew up somewhere between the 1940s and 60s haven’t enjoyed the easiest reputation, but having grown up in a time of plenty before these incessant warnings of impending disaster, with wages rising year on year and interest rates staying conveniently low, they did enjoy one of the most prosperous moments in recent human history.
Being born after the toil and hardship of two devastating world wars, they were brought up into a shiny new world risen from the ashes. This was a time when plenty was to be relished in after years of weekly allocations, destruction and insecurity. Consumerism in its infancy thrived during the younger years of the baby boomers. Dreamed up by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays to reinvigorate the masses after the horrors of war, rationing and self-sacrifice, this was the moment in human history when buying stuff you didn’t need became a personal, political, and profitable doctrine that has yet to be revised. These post-war children were raised amongst the bright and alluring scenes of billboards professing the promise of new, bigger, better things that offered more enjoyment, more success and more money. This subliminal ideology soon became one of the most defining features of the boomer generation as they got older. Resource consumption skyrocketed as burgeoning companies began mining for more materials to keep up with the demand, without concern for what may happen to the surrounding environment because there was money to be made.
As the economy thrived under new industries, this young adult generation now benefited from low interest rates, high wages and low living costs. Credit became widely available, giving people the freedom to buy what they wanted and take advantage of the low entry level repayment rates. The vast majority of this generation could afford the mortgage on a house in their early twenties. Cars were affordable, and jobs soared in growing industries before any mainstream inkling of the damage they were pumping into the atmosphere. Now the baby boomers were in their own homes, TV ownership soared from just 36% in the mid-1950s to 84% in the mid-1960s. With work standards increasing with maximum working hours and required holiday hours, more leisure time led to a massive resurgence of hobbies and fads with expensive equipment to be put in the loft when the next one came around. More money in their pocket along with affordable plane travel led to a boom of tourist travel, with Spain, in particular, having a massive influx of burnt tourists on their beaches. Unsurprisingly, Benidorm, having opened less than 5 hotels in the 1950s, built over 50 the following decade. These prosperous years that the boomers enjoyed in their of age era is considered to be the start of the excessive consumption culture that has since plagued the industrialised north. With no need to prepare or worry for the future, they assumed the economy and wages would rise by significant percentage points every year, and there would always be a decent job for anyone who was in need.
They became the majority of the electorate in the eighties and became the predominant leaders in governments in the nineties. But propped up by a belief that the economy would return to that which they enjoyed in their youth, they spent the vast majority of time under-investing and accumulating debt at a massive rate. And their focus on stabilising a failing economy that only made it fall faster, caused them to deliberately overlook the climate warning signs that had reached a claxon point. The abilities of the baby boomers to mitigate real circumstance is confirmed by their electorate in the West; Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Theresa May, and a certain Donald J. Trump.
The boomers inherited a prosperous future which they have gradually bankrupted and left none in preparation for the apocalyptic future their consuming and wasteful lifestyles helped create. Though they aren’t to blame for the burning of fossil fuels, they did, and continue to, fail to do anything about the growing consequences.
Now, with the generation spanning between 60 and 80 years old, their habits haven’t ceased. There is a belief that after 65 our individual carbon emissions start to decrease, though boomers, having enjoyed paying off their mortgages by just 40, have managed to accrue enough to buy second and even third homes. Now hitting their midlife crises, they are contributing to the massive booms in consumer industries. More outgoing than their parents, the golf, road bike and crochet industries have been experiencing an unexpected surge in profits. Thanks to improvements in health care over the last 50 years, zimmer frame sales are dropping as Harley Davidson sales rise.
That said, environmental attitudes within baby boomers are generally very high, with over 60% concerned about the environment and over 70% practising basic sustainable habits like recycling and using spare time to shop around for sustainable products. Other ways the generation are looking to support the green movement is by donating their leisure moments to environmental groups. Baby boomers make up a significant portion of volunteer work in the eco sector, including weekly beach cleans, rescuing animals affected by human refuse, and helping campaign groups to raise awareness. The boomer cohort is also leading the way in sustainable investments, which have almost doubled in profitability over the last twenty years.
But their time in power has left nations with unnavigable decisions like choosing between saving health services, protecting defence systems or saving ourselves from rising temperatures and sea levels and all the associated risks to our planet and security on it. Perhaps in retirement, the Baby Boomers will adopt a cleaner, simpler life that puts less pressure on the planet, but as retirement plans get put on hold, holiday homes get bought in foreign lands, and inheritance money gets lavishly spent, the younger generations may just get stuck with the ecological bill.