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Climate crisis breaks open generational rifts in US families

Climate crisis breaks open generational rifts in US families

A sense of despair and outrage among young people over global heating is being met with indifference and dismissal among some older relatives

The climate crisis lingers in the back of Gemma Gutierrez’s mind, a gnawing anxiety that blossoms fully when she reads about wildfires, flooding or other climate-related disasters. It’s a nagging concern that clouds how the 16-year-old sees her future.

“I have a sense of dread,” says Gutierrez, who lives with her parents in Milwaukee. “I dread that in my lifetime the clean water I have now or the parks I’m lucky enough to be able to go to won’t be there any more. It weighs on my mind.”

Like a growing number of young people in the US, Gutierrez sees climate change casting a long shadow over her adult years. She has been inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, and has contacted her local elected representatives to raise her concerns.

The looming US presidential election has only sharpened her fears, as well as underlining a generational rift in her family. In a scenario playing out in many American families, a sense of despair and outrage among young people over global heating is being met with indifference and even dismissal among some of their older relatives.

“The climate has always changed and what’s the bad part of it getting a bit warmer? I like warm days,” says Dennis Miller, Gutierrez’s maternal grandfather, who describes himself as a conservative and credits Donald Trump for building a strong economy before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Miller, a former Exxon employee who lives in North Carolina, believes that his granddaughter has been misled over climate change. (Scientists are unequivocal that the climate is changing with human activity the primary cause.) “Youngsters are youngsters,” Miller says.

"I want older people to see a different perspective. I would be doing the world a disservice by not trying"
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