Several of us have been involved in research around aging and climate change (enough for a special issue of Aging and Anthropology Perhaps? or a workshop?). When one considers the way aging is taking place around the world, and then looks at the effects of global climate change on the world`s populations, it is difficult to deny that we are at a crisis point. Natural disasters are not new, nor is the vulnerability of older people in the wake of these disasters. However, as older adults make up more of the population in areas prone to disaster, and as natural disasters become more fierce, frequent, and unpredictable, new challenges are being faced by disaster responders and by the communities afterward. An even greater challenge of halting detrimental human influence on climate change faces all of us as we consider the world we will live in 20, 30, or 40 years from now. If you live in India, the population change will look like this in about 36 years:
India is no exception to rapid population aging, and it is certainly no exception to the devastating effects of climate change.
Recent large-scale disasters in the Philippines and Japan have often highlighted the plight of older adults, especially those in need of medication, medical assistance and dietary needs, and the thousands who were unable to evacuate and have been lost. Almost two fifths of those killed in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines were over 60, and about 64% of those killed in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan were over 60. After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, suicides among older adults were not uncommon, and health of older adults spending prolonged periods in evacuee housing deteriorated at a much faster rate than in the general population. Older adults were also key to the recovery, comforting each other, becoming custodial grandparents for children who lost their parents. About two hundred older adults volunteered to help clean up the Fukushima nuclear power plant, some arguing that in contrast to younger people, they would be dying by the time the radioactivity would have serious effects.
In the following months, there will be regular posts from AAGE members on aging, climate change, and the role of anthropology within interdisciplinary efforts to improve research and policy from a global sociocultural perspective. Are younger generations looking to older generations for models of ecologically responsible lifestyles? How does climate change affect social and economic inequality in ways that impact inter-generational relationships? How will global climate change affect the older people who live in areas of the world you work in?
Editor-in-Chief, Anthropology & Aging