“They Did Not Know What They Were Doing”: Climate Change and Intergenerational Compassion

Senjooti Roy, Liat Ayalon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background and Objectives: Compassion is described as an affective experience arising from witnessing the undeserved suffering of another that propels one to provide protection and cooperation. Climate change is often associated with “underserved suffering,” especially of younger and future generations. Consequently, contemporary climate discourse has expressed hostility toward older generations for inflicting such suffering. Studies on intergenerational relations within the context of climate change agree that intergenerational solidarity, rather than conflict, is necessary for effective climate action. Because compassion is instrumental to solidarity, in this study, we explore intergenerational climate-related expressions of compassion leading to intergenerational solidarity. Research Design and Methods: We interviewed 16 climate activists from 8 countries (aged 16–76 years) to understand how they view climate responsibility. Thematic analysis was undertaken to create and explore themes related to intergenerational compassion and solidarity. Results: Compassion flowed in both directions: from younger to older generations in the form of forgiveness, empathy, and understanding, and from older to younger generations through advocacy, lifestyle changes, and transmission of knowledge and skills. All participants emphasized solutions over accusations. Areas of focus varied between industrialized and developing countries. Cultural factors played an essential role in intergenerational perceptions. Discussion and Implications: Climate change can be a polarizing issue with older adults fielding accusations and younger people facing criticism for demanding climate action. Examples of intergenerational compassion can counter ageism, reshape climate narratives, encourage intergenerational cooperation, harness the skills of different generations, and create a sustainable world for all ages.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbergnad063
JournalThe Gerontologist
Volume64
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Climate activism
  • Climate advocacy
  • Generations

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine

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