Older Adults as Part of the Solution

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Dr. Jane Goodall

Different ways to get involved

Martin Phillips volunteers many hours each month with local environmental organizations, helping to organize trail clean-ups and testing water quality in streams. His goal is to help preserve the earth for future generations, even though he will not personally see the benefits.

Maria Groves volunteers as a receptionist for a nature center; she enjoys the children who participate in the programs and socializing with staff and other volunteers.

Janice Phelps has always loved being outside in nature; her political work on environmental issues comes from a deep attachment to the natural world, which she feels is sacred and must be preserved.

John Trent is politically conservative and will tell you right away: “I’m no tree-hugger!” But he has spent a lifetime hunting and fishing and is concerned about the destruction of natural areas that used to teem with wildlife, so he volunteers to protect them.

These individuals pursue different activities and have divergent motivations. But they have one thing in common: They are part of a growing movement of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond who have become environmental volunteers, working to create a sustainable society and conserve our natural resources. Their goal? To help solve one of the major challenges of our time: the growing threat of climate change and its devastating consequences.

Why older adults?

Older Americans, from the leading edge of the Baby Boom to people well into later life, are eager to contribute to the greater good through civic engagement. One way to accomplish this involvement is through environmental volunteering. Not just in the United States but around the globe, older people are stepping up to raise awareness about climate change, reduce the factors that cause it, and develop ways of protecting us from the effects.  

Communities have an enormous need for environmental volunteers in many areas including keeping natural areas clean, testing water quality, promoting recycling, and providing educational programs for children.

As these engaged environmental activists will tell you, older people must become active participants rather than passive actors around climate change, by mobilizing in large numbers to address local environmental problems through civic environmentalism. The current cohort of older environmental activists represent the “tip of the iceberg” – the potential for large-scale involvement is much higher.

Fortunately, older adults are coming to the rescue. They tend to have more time for civic engagement and volunteerism, and they have critical lived experience and expertise to contribute to the cause. In fact, seniors are also the most likely age group to volunteer for 100 or more hours per year.

Around the world, we are seeing an uptick in “older environmental activism,” Older people are participating in small-scale programs, such as joining local environmental groups. And increasingly, they are becoming involved in collective action in support local or national environmental movements.

Globally, older environmental activism provides an excellent opportunity to address two pressing social problems simultaneously: the need for greater social integration and participation of older people and the mounting concern about climate change. We rarely get win-win situations, and this is one of them.

For more information

An article in Generations magazine about the power of older adults as environmental volunteers.

An article published by HealthAge International on benefits of recruiting older adults for climate action.