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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Retiree Environmental Volunteerism and Civic Engagement Moving Ahead

Karl Pillemer and Linda P. Wagenet are leading a program to better understand and support engagement of older persons in issues of environmental sustainability and conservation. The Cornell Program on Aging and the Environment (CPAE) is based on the idea that the older population can constitute a special resource for environmental action in the form of volunteerism and civic engagement.

Unique opportunities are provided by the intersection of three major social trends: the enormous growth in the older population; the need for opportunities for meaningful involvement on the part of older people (including the Baby Boom generation now reaching retirement); and the critical need for volunteers to play a role in remedying pressing environmental problems.

Pillemer and Wagenet have written a review and “call to action” on this topic, published in the Public Policy and Aging Report. They note that awareness has increased about the rapidly growing older population, which is expected to double worldwide between 2000 and 2025. Environmental organizations, however, have not shown significant interest in maximizing the involvement of older adults, nor have many aging-related associations been involved in promoting environmental volunteerism. Pillemer and Wagenet argue in their article that environmental volunteering may have particular value for older persons beyond the types of volunteer activity more conventionally performed in later life. They conclude that research, practice, and policy should work in concert to facilitate volunteering and civic engagement in environmental issues in the second half of life.

To put some of these ideas into practice, a pilot project was launched in September, 2008 called the Retiree Environmental Stewards Project (RESP). The RESP provided an opportunity for older adults to learn about environmental issues, develop leadership characteristics, participate in a class project and give back to the community. An evaluation research component accompanied the training, which was open to anyone age 60 and above. The Fall 2008 RESP cohort had seventeen participants, and the class has chosen to develop an educational campaign about the proper disposal of unused medications.

Topics addressed in the fall workshops included: human behavior and environment; air pollution and climate change; water and watersheds; conflict and communication; waste and recycling; local environmental policy; storm water management; energy/transportation/alternative energy strategies; land use/agriculture/planning. There was a mix of classroom lectures and field trips. For each session, Dr. Rhoda Meador, Assistant Director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell, presented activities to increase the leadership skills of the participants. The RESP will be implemented in the Southern Tier and Capital regions this spring.

On February 3, 2009, CPAE sponsored a day-long symposium on aging and the environment. Featured speakers included Ms Kathy Sykes, the Director of the Aging Initiative for the US Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Lenard Kaye from the University of Maine, and Dr. Nancy Wells from the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell.
For Further Information

Contact Beth Lisk at

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