ASA’s strategic plan envisions that by 2024, ASA will expand member engagement in policy development and advocacy and significantly strengthen ASA’s role and voice as one of the country’s leading aging sector advocates. After hearing from our membership, ASA concluded that it will lead on policy efforts related to: 1) accelerating digital inclusion; 2) tackling ageism; 3) advancing health equity; and 4) fighting climate change. ASA will support organizations and coalitions championing issues related to aging that align with ASA’s mission and member priorities. For all other important aging policy matters, we will use our extensive year-round educational and thought leadership programming to drive change for our society.
Climate change and its impacts are well documented. However, its unique impact on older adults is often ignored. A 2013 EPA study found that most older Americans live in just nine states and that five of those states (California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania) are highly susceptible to climate change.
- Lack of age-inclusive healthcare and environmental justice policies. There is significant science that demonstrates all the ways in which climate change impacts the health of older adults—from respiratory diseases to mental health issues. But we believe more needs to be done to not only address how our healthcare and other systems relied upon by older adults are impacted by climate change but demonstrate why environmental justice advocates must include older adults in their advocacy and policy considerations.
- Lack of broad, consistent and intentional federal support for emergency preparedness, response and recovery for older adults. Local, state and federal officials, along with help from nonprofit agencies, maintain a response network for disaster events and shape policies around emergency preparedness, response and recovery. However, the higher rates of death for older individuals in emergencies, along with the increase of these events due to climate change, requires preparedness, response and recovery policies that focus on this population.
- Lack of environmental volunteer opportunities for older adults. Shifting demographics are driving increased volunteerism by older adults but so, too, is the desire for many to reimagine retirement. The primary motivations in older environmental volunteers are socialization, generativity, usefulness to others and a pro-environmental attitude. Only 15% of older adults engage in environmental activities despite 80% of this population affirming that they “do what is right for the environment.” That is why we need better policies that harness the benefits of volunteerism for older adults while increasing the number of participants in climate change initiatives.
Include Older Adults in Healthcare and Environmental Justice
- Support greater investments by the HHS, EPA, and other federal agencies in age-inclusive research to study the impact of climate change on how we age.
- Invest in climate change training for the healthcare workforce, particularly as it relates to the well-being of older adults.
- Invest in transitional sheltering assistance for older adults who live in high-risk climate areas, such as areas with unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires.
- Identify innovative age-friendly, climate-friendly solutions that also impact social determinants of health (SDOH), such as creating more cooling centers and adding urban greenery, or creating more accessible urban greenspace, to combat social isolation and heat islands, while providing fresh air.
- Expand existing economic development and land-use tools for localities, states and the federal government to ensure older adults are intentionally included in decisions related to comprehensive planning, in environmental reviews or impact analysis and making change through local boards and commissions.
Strengthen Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery
- Amend existing federal legislation mandating the inclusion of older adults in preparedness and disaster policies.
- Require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to include older advocates on their advisory boards and commissions and mandate localities do the same.
- Advocate for localities to implement a formal emergency preparedness plan specifically for older adults, which includes leveraging existing age-friendly communities in a system to identify and publicize community service providers that can enter disaster areas and provide assistance, as well as drafting a plan that maps out neighborhoods (using public records) with a higher concentration of older residents.
- Invest in the energy and outdoor infrastructure of the United States to deploy innovative technologies and update existing infrastructure to be reliable and resilient.
Promote Age-inclusive Volunteerism
- Invest in a Civilian Climate Corps that centers older adults, by reviving a federal program created during the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create work and volunteer opportunities that would combat climate change.
- Expand public sector support for volunteerism at older ages, as now the private sector fulfills a more active role in creating these opportunities. A significant expansion of programs such as AmeriCorps Seniors is necessary, with environmental work as a priority.
- Offer environmental volunteering as an option in pre-retirement programs.
- Ensure green volunteer roles are open to people across all education and income levels. Potential ways to combat disparities include free transportation, compensation for qualified individuals and reimbursement for travel and food costs.
- Encourage innovative volunteer programs, such as a Cornell University pilot program called Retirees in Service to the Environment that created a partnership between an organization dedicated to environmental education and one devoted to serving older adults to teach environmental workshops and encourage volunteering with an organization.