Project outline

In the course of  the next century the  industrialized countries will be encountering two seminal trends. The first of these is global climate change  resulting in a transformation of  living environments that is yet not understood in full detail but is most likely to require political decisions and resources on a macroeconomic scale both for mitigating the extent of climate change and for adapting to its impacts (Stern 2007). Climate change coincides with a demographic shift occurring in the industrialized countries that moves them towards aging populations. According to current projections by 2050 the proportion of eligible voters over the age of 60 will have increased from currently 22% to over 49% (Stat. Bundesamt 2008) . This development will give the age-group 60 and over an increasing weight in the political and economic decision-making process towards mitigating and adapting to climate change. Whether this age-group will decide for an ambitious climate protection strategy will depend on at least two dimensions:

1. A good general understanding of the complex climate change dynamics:
It is not much doubted that the climate system is highly complex and possible implications of climate change are not well understood neither within the scientific community nor among the general public. Previous research (Sterman und Booth Sweeney 2002, 2007) has shown that individuals regularly fail to correctly understand the central interdependencies between emission flows, atmospheric stock of CO2 and resulting impacts on the climate. Moreover,  it is known that older people are increasingly affected by cognitive overload. In fact,  nearly a quarter of all individuals in their mid sixties suffer from concrete cognitive impairments that impinge upon their abstract thinking and ability to adapt to new situations (Toro et al. 2009). On the other hand,  older individuals can draw on a richer stock of experience that could be helpful when facing complex decision problems as in the context of climate change.

2.  A motivation to contribute towards climate protection:
As there is much slackness within the climate system a major hurdle towards investments into mitigation and adaptation measures within aging societies could be the disparity of costs and benefits. While the costs are immediate the benefits will mainly be enjoyed by future generations. Therefore,  older members of society might not be willing to contribute sufficiently to these measures. On the other hand,  there could be motives such as altruism and a preference for intergenerational and international equity. At large, results from experimental economics and psychology confirm the existence of such motives (Harbaugh et al, 2007) even though there is no clear indication  of how the age of a person affects these motives.

Obviously, these two dimensions cannot be looked at separately as concrete actions depend both on the understanding of the problem and a concrete motivation to contribute to its solution. By drawing on methods and  insights from environmental economics, behavioural economics, psychology and gerontology, it is the purpose of this research project to give some indication whether the coincidence of climate and demographic change will lead to further issues that have so far not been part of  public and scientific awareness.