Elders Climate Action brings wisdom, experience to movement for livable world

Elders Climate Action

From left, Dave Freedman, Milt Silber, Bobbi Silber, Rosy Silverman with Elders Climate Action participate in a climate rally in Fr. Lauderdale last November.

Elders Climate Action brings wisdom, experience to movement for livable world

By Judy Weiss

Elders Climate Action (ECA) formed a partnership last year with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. ECA is committed to CCL’s carbon fee and dividend, and is dedicated to mobilizing elders to generate the political will to address climate change in ways that will protect the wellbeing of future generations. ECA likewise allies with Moms Clean Air Force to defend EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and teams up with 350.org to pull together for divestment, while otherwise undertaking its own actions and programs. ECA seeks to attract talented, thoughtful, energetic people who are committed to sustaining our society and safeguarding intergenerational bonds. ECA’s active board has planned national events to foster connections and bonding between members but, through 2015, it had no local chapters.

That is, it had no local chapters until my friend Grady McGonagill of Boston CCL founded the first chapter of ECA in November 2015, and asked me to help run the fledgling chapter. At our first meeting we asked attendees: Who qualifies as an elder? Why is elderhood a rationale for organizing a climate change group? How will focusing on elders affect our choices of priorities, outreach strategies, messaging and the range of organizations with which to partner? Separately, I wondered how does it help CCL if I pledge to devote time to starting an ECA chapter?

Why an elder? Elders can be an enormous untapped resource for stabilizing the climate. Elderhood isn’t about age: elders might be entering midlife and looking for more meaningful pursuits, or empty-nesters with some extra time and looking for impactful new roles. They might be approaching retirement and have extensive networks, or some capital, or tons of know-how, and valuable professional experience. They may be over 65, anticipate many more years (even decades) of productivity, and want to use their talents and wisdom to strengthen society. Elders care deeply about preserving a safe, sustainable world for their children and everyone’s grandchildren. They think about their legacy and know their grandkids will one day ask them “What did you do once you knew?” They want to be able to offer a narrative saying they answered the call, they stood up, and stood with others to make a difference.

Elders have long been engaged in climate activism all over the country: from a 2013 walk from Camp David to the White House, to a 2015 Elders Rising For Intergenerational Justice action in Utah which used singing to protest Bureau of Land Management public land fossil fuel leases. Raging Grannies in Seattle protested  Arctic oil drilling by rocking in their rocking chairs on railroad tracks near a controversial Arctic-bound oil rig. In the Midwest, 100 Grannies holds regular actions — my favorite is their “snit in,” a knitting sit-in. For Our Grandchildren marched in the NYC People’s Climate March, and many elders protest various pipelines with multi-generational groups.  Grady was arrested in November 2015 for protesting against a Boston pipeline project with a group of Mothers, Grandmothers and Others.

Since elders consistently have the best U.S. voting record of any demographic, you might expect that they also communicate regularly with their House Representatives, seek meetings with their Senators, and actively engage in making democracy address their concerns. However, of those who joined our new Boston ECA chapter, most had never met with their Members of Congress, nor their state legislators, and had never written a letter to the editor.

Perhaps, like most Americans, they felt that advocating for national legislation was pointless because Congress has been stuck. Many Boston ECA members feel that working on local climate mitigation actions is more doable and rewarding in the short term. Some feel that local successes, like this month’s decision by Kinder Morgan to put their Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline on hold, can generate the momentum that allows national legislation in the long term.

Consequently, Boston ECA supports national carbon fee and dividend, but commits most of its time to developing partnerships on state and local issues. At our first meeting, we asked all 15 new members to send Republican Governor Charlie Baker a note explaining why climate change matters to them and introducing him to ECA. At later meetings, we identified potential ally-organizations, and planned meetings with our state Representatives and state Senators to discuss a state energy bill. Within three months of our first members’ meeting, we:

  • Tabled at a local climate conference.
  • Wrote letters to state legislators advocating for a strong energy bill.
  • Communicated with legislators our opposition to public financing of new gas pipelines, and concern for policies to protect low income households.
  • Wrote thank you notes to our state Attorney General for joining the investigation of Exxon.
  • Began a series of presentations at retirement communities.
  • Started planning a series of parlor meetings to discuss climate with neighbors, friends and families.

Our members value small tasks that produce gratifying short term results.

Why is partnering with ECA helpful in Boston? By promoting local climate mitigation efforts, volunteers learn lobbying skills, form alliances with other organizations, spread information about CCL and Carbon Fee and Dividend, and generate small successes that nurture a volunteer’s commitment.

Moreover, elders have particularly potent voices for addressing climate change. They can convey a strong moral stance for intergenerational justice that is often easier to communicate to the public than the religious call of faith leaders because an elder’s unwritten covenant with offspring doesn’t depend on interpreting texts, or wrestling with differences in interfaith terminology, sensitivities and dogma.  Elders’ relationships with their grandchildren represent loyalty, personify compassion, awaken our own love and inspire others to serve future generations too.

Grady, a self-employed leadership consultant and coach who shifted his energies after 30 years to address climate change, takes the function of elderhood further. He says the perspective of elderhood “enables me to be more assertive in recruiting because I feel as if I’m offering people something, not just asking them for commitments.” What does he offer elders? The idea that aging is NOT just about losing power, and retiring is NOT about idleness or self-involvement. Elderhood means being a repository of societal wisdom, being a loyal and trustworthy guide through crisis to stability.

By the way, lobbyists know that elders are serious about voting, and so fossil fuel lobbyists aggressively target elders with scare tactics. Organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers fund 60 Plus Association which runs alarming anti-solar campaigns in Arizona, Florida (and other states), and encourages various states to refuse to cooperate with the Clean Power Plan. Having elders talk to elders can help shield them from propaganda, and encourage them to make climate their top voting issue this year.

At CCL’s annual June conference in Washington this year, you should expect to meet some ECA members–since two more chapters are hoping to form soon, perhaps your CCL chapter may be able to help them. On Lobby day, ECA members will lobby Congress at the same time as CCL, but separately from CCL. If you notice a spontaneous flash mob song in Longworth’s cafeteria — applaud! Those creative folks are our partners.

Judy Weiss
Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA. She teaches Hebrew Bible to adults, and she is a volunteer climate change advocate with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Boston Jewish Climate Action Network, and the Boston chapter of Elders Climate Action.
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