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How can retirees address climate change? A personal view

18 August 2021

These may seem small actions in the face of a looming crisis. But if everyone acted in similar ways, a great deal could be achieved, says ICE North East Seniors chairman Mike Wade.

How can retirees address climate change? A personal view
Mike Wade (far left) at the Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station. Photograph: Mike Wade

As a retired civil engineer, I have been thinking about my place in the net zero carbon challenge and the role that retirees more widely can play. We could, perhaps, be excused for sitting back and saying, “I’ve done my bit. Let someone else take over.” But let’s look at the legacy we have left behind.

During our working careers, the priorities were threefold - time, cost, quality. These were the key factors that drove our decision making and challenged us daily to find the best balance between sometimes conflicting goals.

Often, difficult compromises had to be reached.

In later years, it became clear that we had failed to give sufficient attention to construction safety, as accident rates demonstrated. Thus, a fourth priority was added to the mix.

What we still did not give priority to was what we were doing to the planet. We were simply "directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man".

The consequences of this long-held mantra are now plain to see. But at the time, the earth’s bounty seemed to be endless. More aggregate was needed; we dug another hole. More cement was needed; we burned more coal, oil or gas. More steel was needed; we shipped more iron ore around the world. The need for ever-growing profits and the workings of market economies made it all too easy.

None of this is to say that we were all complicit in some great, global conspiracy. It was more that we were unaware of the long-term consequences of our actions. Indeed, most of us were so busy doing the best we could to balance those priorities that we didn’t have time for thoughts of the wider world.

A call to arms

Well, in retirement, we now have more time for thought. So, what can we do to try to rescue the situation? It is not a time for self-flagellation, more a call to arms.

Many of us have the benefit of the financial security that allows us to make carbon-sensitive choices in our personal lives.

We can use utility providers who are genuinely trying to provide a “green” service, rather than the more dubious cheaper suppliers. We can invest our savings in eco funds. We can choose to buy an electric vehicle and use the train. If we wish to fly, then we can afford to support carbon offsetting schemes.

In a wider context, we can influence those around us, family, friends, neighbours, to adopt more climate-friendly behaviours by example and persuasion. (We can also learn from that younger generation who have already grasped the seriousness of the situation).

Then, we have the right to vote for the local and national politicians who we think are most inclined to support the policies that will deliver on the climate agenda. Elections only occur from time to time, but the opportunity to write to our representatives or, indeed, to the press and suppliers, is always with us.

For those who are able, there are opportunities to act directly by offering time and experience as volunteers for causes that will enhance our environment.

These may seem small, even trivial, actions in the face of a looming crisis. But if everyone acted in similar ways, a great deal could be achieved.

As retirees, we have the time and the resources. Do we have the commitment?

  • Mike Wade, ICE North East Seniors chairman at ICE North East