Dennis Brunn knows his generation is part of the problem.
He and everyone that looks like him. But joining in solidarity last Friday with students who walked out of class and stood up for climate change was as important a step as he’s ever taken in placing a solar spotlight on the issue.
So while millions of young people around the world walked out for the largest climate strike in history — thousands in Philadelphia alone — there were roughly 40-50 active seniors with signs and chants from Cathedral Village, a 55 and older community in Roxborough.
“The turnout was amazing,” said Kristine Labhart, a director at Cathedral Village. “ [We] have a very politically motivated group of residents here. There were signs, bull horns and singing, with even residents in wheelchairs and with walkers — nothing could stop this group!”
The goal? Shed the notion that the senior population could care less about climate change.
“This affects us all,” Brunn told PW following the protest. “There’s this misconception that we don’t believe it to be true or that we as a senior community simply don’t care and that could be the furthest from the truth. It’s important we let these kids know that we hear them and that we’re just as worried about the fate of the planet as they are.”
In many ways, they should be.
A recent New York Times report shows that older Americans are significant contributors to climate change. While they’re certainly not on the level of toxin-emitting factories or water-wasting farms, the energy consumption of places like Cathedral Village, according to federal data, is quite high.
The data, which showed household energy usage from 1987-2009, showed that Americans aged 30-54 use considerable amounts of energy compared with younger Americans. It’s assumed that most people within this age bracket are within family households, which could partially explain the spike. The spike then plateaus around age 60 before ramping back up again after 70 — and keeps going up.
“We are aware that we’re part of the problem, but I think we all are as a people,” Brunn said. “[Here at Cathedral Village], we have another longstanding group called the Environmental Stewardship Committee, and they’ve been concerned about environmental issues. Their focus is on daily living, making sure the facility does its part to get rid of plastics, not using pesticides, stuff like that. It’s a small part, but we’re working to do it.”
The Cathedral Village collective didn’t just take part in this to make a name for itself. The walkout was part of a longstanding group at the Village called Indivisible, which, according to the group’s mission statement, is a “grassroots organization of volunteers determined to advance a progressive agenda by resisting corruption, authoritarianism, and inequality in our governmental institutions.”
“I guess that this response from us is more to shine a spotlight on the injustice and blind eye towards climate change and to science in general, some from our leaders in government,” Brunn said. “There’s a general sense of dismay and alarm about environmental conditions that are getting worse, but it’s about the lack of action on the part of our government, including at the state level.”
Brunn said that members of Cathedral Village joined forces with the likes of Penn Environment and the Sunrise Movement, the latter among the key organizations that fueled Friday’s climate strike in Philadelphia. Together, the group has written letters to officials in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., urging action.
“To be honest, I’m a little shocked that we have to urge our elected leaders to do something because we’re seeing the effects of climate change right now in our own country,” Brunn said. “We’re seeing it in Florida, we’re seeing it in Missouri and Louisiana. [We spoke out] as a group of 40-50 people, but it was a very good and knowledgeable group. And if you ask me, I think they’re very, very upset that there’s no serious action at the national level and here in Pennsylvania. If it is moving, it’s moving so slowly, you can’t even see it.”
Locally, when Brunn was told that students within Philadelphia School District were actually penalized for taking part in the climate rally, Brunn said that it was partly that sentiment that made it important for students to know that there were senior counterparts standing right alongside them.
“It’s really a bad message to students,” Brunn said. “Marking these kids absent and to send the message that being an activist about climate change is somehow peripheral to their education is just wrong. I’d say it’s central, right? They’re going to be the ones that are going to have to deal with it. As they get older, they’re going to deal with this mess more than we are. There’s a big discussion to be had with officials about this. Personally, I think it’s unfortunate, but maybe there’s a teachable lesson in there from the students to teachers and school officials.”