Lawrence MacDonald isn’t afraid to say that he, along with much of the baby boomer generation, is responsible for the current global climate crisis. He also isn’t afraid to get arrested.
He was one of 20 arrested outside the White House last Thursday to keep up the pressure on President Barack Obama to deny the construction permit for the cross-border segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Ours was the first generation to understand the nature of the threat, and we also have benefited from the post-World War Two boom,” he told Campus Progress. “A lot of us have been fortunate to travel widely, to have opportunities for education, and all of that was made possible ultimately by cheap fossil fuels.”
“We believe that members of our generation (over 50 years old) have the means and the responsibility to act and that a few dozen of us in each of the 50 states (50 x 50) can tip public opinion in favor of action if we are prepared to organize at the grassroots level, speak out, risk arrest and occasionally spend some time in jail.”
With the ever-mounting struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tar sands, many among the baby boomer generation are feeling MacDonald’s obligation to do something to atone for the grimmer climate future on the horizon for many Millennials.
“People in my age group … feel that many of us, unlike most younger people, we’re not busy with raising our families and working full-time, so we have the time and resources to do this kind of thing, to give our best for the planet,” said 60-years-old April Moore. She was also arrested last Thursday as a part of Fifty Over Fifty. “I feel that we owe it to the younger generation. I mean, our generation was born into a relatively healthy planet, and that’s rapidly changing.”
MacDonald said he hopes the organization can articulate the goals of the civil disobedience in a way that baby boomers can feel comfortable participating. He said many among the boomer generation can feel intimidated by the more aggressive direct actions being taken by young people in anti-extraction movements, such as tree-sits and lock-downs. But his group is steadily growing in numbers, and he is finding that moral support among boomers can be a huge mobilizer in and of itself.
Because younger generations will bear the brunt of the global climate crisis in the next few decades, the climate movement is often seen through a youth lens, and rightly so. But if Fifty Over Fifty is a signal of increased boomer involvement, young organizers may need to start bridging the generational gap.
“You hear a lot about the youth climate movement working really hard, and it’s great to hear that another generation is feeling the same way that we do about these issues,” said Harvard divestment organizer Alli Welton. She’s also member of Students for a Just and Stable Future, and was arrested after sitting-in at a TransCanada office in Massachusetts.
“Their willingness to accept responsibility, and do what they can to change the problem, seems kind of new to me. I hope that their boldness in stepping out like that can really inspire other people among their generation to take these issues seriously.”
By recognizing generational inequality upfront and organizing around it, Fifty Over Fifty is creating a unique allied movement in the position of the privileged that strikes at the very heart of sustainability issues.
As the climate movement remains heavily focused on the expansion of Alberta tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s students and young people who are taking on a rap sheet for direct actions in TransCanada offices, in the pathway of the pipeline and in front of the White House. Students continue to drive a growing movement for divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that is taking root at universities, churches and cities across the nation.
They are doing all this while being saddled with increasing student loan debt, decreased job prospects after graduation, and a number of other barriers to the middle class that previous generations largely didn’t experience. They are getting arrested in between classes, unpaid internships, part-time jobs and organizing meetings.
The conversations generated by baby boomers on climate can more readily resonate across positions of political power, which skew toward older Americans. Mass civil disobedience by the boomer generation could drive home the reality of just how bad the climate crisis among their peers in high places.
“We owe it to you, we owe it to younger people to do our best to start turning things around. It’s a matter of paying it forward,” Moore said.