This past week a University of Texas poll showed yet again that there is a generation gap out there. Conducted in September, the poll showed that over 65% of young Americans prefer candidates who support reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and increasing research funding and economic incentives for the further development of renewable energy. At the other end of the spectrum, the poll showed 50% or less of Americans over 65 would vote for a candidate supporting these issues.
Shifting demographics will play a major if not THE major factor in the future of renewable energy over the next decades. At its peak in 1999 the baby boom generation comprised 79 million Americans. Due to its sheer size, for better and worse, this generation and its priorities have dwarfed following generations and dominated American life since it began to come of age in the 1950’s. All of this is rapidly changing.
In the US, by 2020 the (shrinking) Baby Boom generation will represent 23% of the population and will have been surpassed in size as the rising Millenial generation will represent 27% of the US population. Add into that the generation born post 2001 and by 2020 – only a few years from now – over 50% of the US population will be under the age of 39.
It is an old story, the opinions of youth are discounted as frivolous and irrelevant, until that moment that same youth inevitably takes charge – we are all subject to the passing of time – in the case of Baby Boomers the benefits of being born to a mega-sized generation just after WW2 have assuredly delayed this reality – but the numbers don’t lie and change is indeed upon us.
The question is not who is right or wrong, who is good or bad – but rather – with mortality staring this long dominant generation in the face, what does the younger generation want? As distracting ad the media drama surrounding mid-term elections can be, when considering the demographic reality immediately in front of us, polls like the ones from UT seem to point to something much larger and transformative now underway: Youth will soon control the knobs and dials of power in ways not seen since the Korean War.
Re-building our nations infrastructure – the one bequeathed to us from generations long past, which has outlived and outperformed any expectations its original engineers could have dreamed – by starting with an ethic of environmental protection and a corresponding commitment to renewable energy will put us on a solid path for the future.