Boomer Opinion: “Ok Boomer” makes a fair point

The phrase is gaining currency by the day: “Ok Boomer” is being covered by the television networks, NPR, The New York Times, and media all over America. But what does it mean? And as the targets of the phrase, do we deserve it? That’s what Ed Meek of Somerville, Massachusetts writes about in the Boomer Opinion piece.

You may have heard talk lately of a conflict between Generation Z, Millennials, and baby boomers. The symbol of this conflict is the phrase “Ok Boomer,” adopted by many of the young as a response to criticism they get from us, or as a complaint about the world they’re inheriting from us.

Ed Meek with his wife.

Although we boomers share music, movies, and memories with Millennials (born between 1980 and 1996), Generation Z (born in 1997 or after) can seem to us like they are from a different world, with their asymmetrical hairstyles highlighted by pinks and purples, their mismatched non-binary clothes, their very own personal pronouns and genders, and their piercings and tattoos. Where many Millennials are ambivalent about technology, Gen Z is all in, preferring text to talk and cancel culture to working things out. Like most every American generation, they grew up thinking they are the one generation that matters, and they’ve been building a solid case against us baby boomers, born back in the Stone Age (1946 to 1964).

But here’s news: boomers are not the only ones to blame for climate change. It can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. In fact our generation can claim credit for fighting it. We started an environmental movement in the 1960s with Rachel Carson, Volkswagen Beetles, and getting back to nature. But it’s fair to say, we left all that behind in the Reagan era when the country moved to the right and embraced free trade and unfettered capitalism, which ultimately eroded the environment.

Now, forty years later, with wildfires burning California, flooding in the Midwest and on the coasts, melting ice at the poles, and rising oceans everywhere, we are finally beginning to wonder how the hell we got here. Meanwhile, we’ve kept Social Security and Medicare intact, if fragile, but on the other hand we’ve benefitted from tax cuts that have created a deficit the young will have to address. Now we’re retiring and getting discount movie tickets and cheap train fares while the young are saddled with debt. They are not happy, friends. From them, “Ok Boomer” is not a happy phrase.

Greta Thunberg

When the young climate activist Greta Thunberg says “You are stealing my future,” she is talking to us. And we ought to listen. Social Security is a “pay as you go” system, and because of cost-of-living raises, when we retire we can get more out of it than we put into it. Medicare is also financed by those who are working. Do we really want to alienate the young? They are contributing to our pensions and our medical care!

Finally, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, we live on in our deeds. We all leave a legacy of one kind or another. It is time our generation fulfilled the promise we once believed in. That means making personal changes to the way we live and consume and travel and eat, yes, but it also means using our voting power to elect candidates who will confront climate change by sponsoring bills to transition from our dependence on oil and gas to renewable energy.

It means divesting from oil and gas. It means getting out and marching with Generation Z and the Sunrise Movement to demand that the government represent us rather than ExxonMobil. According to a Harvard study, if .035% of the population protests, the government will respond. We’ve seen evidence of that in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. While we have the time and energy, it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a bright rather than a bleak future.

5 Comments

  1. The goals for Baby Boomers are clear , as you say: it means “divesting from oil and gas. It means getting out and marching with Generation Z and the Sunrise Movement to demand that the government represent us rather than ExxonMobil.”

    Those are BIG goals – flying in the face of huge vested interests – and, yes, they may well require protest as you suggest – the kind we’ve seen in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. But above all – and more important than protests – it means voting in the right man into the White House. I’m not American but I’m a friendly observer from across the pond (Italy) and when Trump goes about rocking the stability of the whole world with trade wars and tearing down key agreements that are intended to maintain world peace like the missiles ones with Russia or save the world from climate disaster like the Paris Climate Agreement, then of course, I am directly concerned. Along with everyone else on this planet.

    We are at a turning point in Human History, we truly risk anhilitation – and it all depends on you guys, over there in America. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this time you’ll get it right. A good man or woman as President of the United States. It’s a live-or-die choice for you guys, of course, but for the whole world too!

    1. I’m an American boomer and have been living in England for the past 4 years. I never realized until I moved outside the U.S. what an impact the U.S. has on the world. The U.S. is in the news in all formats daily. I don’t remember hearing about the world as much when I lived in the U.S., perhaps I was in a bubble trying to make ends meet, and there was a lot of news about other states. But yes, I agree who the U.S. President is makes a huge difference in the world, so I’ll be casting my vote from England. I wish one country alone wouldn’t have that much impact, that we could have more equality and unity in the world, work together and share our resources and struggles.

  2. The more commentaries like this one, the better. The simplest, least painful way for citizens to respond to the potential disasters associated with climate change and any number of other grim possibilities is to vote for candidates who have pledged to address these issues. Everybody can’t afford an electric car. Lots of people have no choice but to drive to work. But voting is free. So is adopting a rational attitude when choosing who’ll occupy the White House. It’s no sacrifice to open your mind to the truth, and to act accordingly.

  3. I’m a Boomer but I don’t see the need to go out and protest. I’d rather help create new ways of living that aren’t the things we were brainwashed into believing as we grew up: unchecked consumerism ( we should buy less and consume wisely ) get off the automobile dependency lifestyle (use bikes, public transportation & that ancient method of walking) flying everywhere at the drop of hat for conferences, meetings, conventions and the like. Live in smaller living quarters that don’t consume so much energy like our McMansions when we don’t need them. These are the types of things Boomers can do that are personal choices and make an impact – much more impact than putting the power in someone else’s hands to make the decisions for us (like political leaders.) Overall, they are probably healthier choices for Boomers as well. I see more and more GenZ and Millenials adopting these lifestyles. Good for them!

  4. Ed, I appreciate your article.

    I agree with most of what you have said. I do take exception to one thing. If people use “Ok Boomer” to divide us then I would be careful using the phrase. I do not take offense to the phrase. Every generation has their own identity.

    Like you I supported legislation in the 1970s for clean air and water. While we did pass this legislation and we can point to the metrics of atmospheric and water science to see that we did make improvements in the cleanliness of our air and water. It wasn’t until the 1990s, did I realize we dropped the ball and let others dilute and stigmatize the goals of clean air and water. For that, we all suffer.

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