I encountered this research a few weeks ago and published a blog item. The slant then was that the over-50s are sceptical of climate change.
The final report is now published and the ‘conclusions’ are finding their way into the mainstream press. In many ways this is report is a microcosm of the whole climate change debate.
A report, with a lot of fancy graphs, is created with the main conclusions based upon a ‘model’ – in this case the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Resources and Energy Analysis Programme.
The headline conclusions are then picked up and reported, in an uncritical way, by the general media. The reason for the lack of objective reporting is that most mainstream journalists are scientifically-challenged (understatement) and also anything to do with climate change is beyond criticism.

A few things concern me about this report.

1. The research didn’t take account of the geographic spread of older people (i.e. far more are based in a rural and suburban than urban areas). This changes their need for car transport. To provide an accurate comparison the researchers should have compared the carbon consumption of rural 30 year olds with the rural 50-plus. Also cities have a higher ambient temperature which reduces the need carbon used in household heating.

2. Older people are more likely to have larger properties, with all of the implications this has on heating and lighting etc.

3. No consideration was given for the way that older people consume carbon on behalf of their children and grandchildren (i.e. kids not leaving home until much later and the amount of time that grandparents spend looking after grandchildren).

4. The report used a measurement of carbon efficiency (kg/£/capita) which is misleading since older people (75+) spend a disproportional amount of their total incomes on heating/lighting. The true comparison is the total amount spent on heating - not as a proportion of total income.

5. The research didn’t appear to take account of the carbon that employers consume on behalf of their employees. Since there are a lot less 50+ in employment than 30 year olds that is an important factor.

6. The attitude to climate change section didn’t compare the results with those of younger people. So how much more sceptical are the oldies than their kids?

The report does contain some interesting stuff and asks some worthwhile questions but it appears a bit thin on academic rigour.

The report’s recommendations are simplistic. These are the generic motherhood statements that could have been written before the research started.

Government should:

• invest in increasing the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock

• invest in high quality public transport systems

• reverse the current trend which is for motoring costs to go down in real terms while public transport costs go up

• introduce German style packaging and packaging waste tax to encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging they use.

7/10 for presentation. 3/10 for academic rigour and original thinking.
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