Taking Back Aging and Taking Back the Planet: Highlights from TrentAging2019

Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kelsey Harvey, a PhD candidate in the Department of Health, Aging and Society, received a Gilbrea Travel Award to facilitate her travel to the TrentAging 2019 conference.

May 2019
By: Kelsey Harvey

Like many gerontologists, I was appalled last year when ACRONYM released a video encouraging younger people in the U.S. to vote in the mid-term elections. It was not the aim of the video that caused an up-roar (The American Society on Aging condemned the video and called for suspending the ageist campaign: https://www.asaging.org/blog/asa-responds-ageist-advertising), but the ways in which intergenerational conflict and overt ageism was leveraged in the Knock the Vote campaign (language warning: https://globalnews.ca/news/4526912/midterm-elections-knock-the-vote-video/). In this video, a woman says, “Climate change? That’s a you problem. I’ll be dead soon.”

Dr. Kathleen Woodward’s plenary address at the TrentAging2019 conference entitled “Aging and the Anthropocene: The View from Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises” described an older character who did not care about climate change. Instead, the protagonist in The Dark Flood Rises obsesses over how she might die while her daughter fixates on climate change. It never occurs to the protagonist that she could perish due to the effects of climate change, despite being situated in a time and place wrought with natural disasters.

Both examples, ACRONYM’s Knock the Vote and Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises depict older adults as self-centered and self-serving; caring only about political policies that serve their interests or preoccupied with their own mortality. However, there are many older adults who care deeply about climate change and there are many reasons why the aging populations have a vested interest in preserving planet Earth for future generations. As Dr. Woodward pointed out, our children and grandchildren will one day too be ‘old.’ However, Dr. Woodward argues that climate change could threaten longevity. In other words, our population’s life expectancy has increased dramatically, but future generations may not be as lucky to lives such long lives when people from across the globe die from natural disasters, food shortages, pollution, heat waves, and the other myriad of effects of global warming.

Not only is climate change a potential threat to longevity at a population level, it should also be a concern at the individual level. I can personally attest to my own anxieties of raising a child and wondering what his future and his aging experiences will be like if we face the disasters that are in store if climate change is not aggressively managed.

Admittedly, I never thought as a gerontologist that there was much connection to be made between aging and global warming. However, Dr. Woodward’s plenary address served as an eye-opening inspiration and call to action. Firstly, let’s first start by taking back aging by opposing the use of ageism and intergenerational conflict as campaign tools. Then, let’s study and promote the truth about older adults’ engagements in efforts to fight climate change. As gerontologists, it seems, there are more ways that we can contribute to the study of aging while also fighting climate change.

I would like to thank the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging and the Department of Health, Aging and Society at McMaster University for their financial support that made it possible for me to attend the TrentAging2019 conference held in Peterborough Ontario.