Climate change poses a more dire threats to the millennial generation than rising seas do to their parents’ basement.
Two troubling social trends are converging on the horizon, which could bring either promise or peril, depending on the next generation’s ability to restructure the economy. According to an analysis by the think tank Demos and liberal advocacy group Next Gen, as climate change drives ecological turmoil in the coming years, long-term economic stagnation drives social despair, and both demand systemic change driven by youth.
A median-income worker who graduated college last year, according to Demos, is set to “lose over $126,000 in income over her lifetime, and $187,000 in wealth if the income were to be saved and invested,” if policymakers do nothing to deal with climate change. This compounds other economic woes dragging down millennials, including unraveling social safety-net programs, debt and unsustainable childcare costs—amounting to a maelstrom of recession-induced lifetime losses that have totaled about $112,000 for a typical college-educated young worker’s household.
A millennial who became a parent in 2015, moreover, may have to prepare their child for an even bleaker future as the environment worsens: An infant who grows up to earn the median income “will lose approximately $357,000 in income over her lifetime, and approximately $581,000 in wealth if the income were to be saved and invested.”
Altogether, without action on climate change, Demos projects a loss of $8.8 trillion in the lifetime income of the rising generation—vastly overshadowing even the $1 trillion student-debt crisis.
Both millennials and their parents are already bearing the costs, as tax costs linked to climate disruptions have amounted to an estimated $10 billion annually for the past eight years.
Like climate change, economic decline hits vulnerable populations harder. Blacks and Latinos, who are especially prone to high debt burdens, are also especially at risk of dropping out before attaining a degree, leaving them with worse job prospects. In contrast to the relative boom times their parents enjoyed, Demos notes, “the median wealth of young households with a bachelor’s degree or higher declined by 24 percent over the past quarter century,” while the debt burden of college-educated households soared by nearly 50 percent.
All these financial stressors, however, are dwarfed by the looming threat of a warming planet. The hazards include more frequent and intense extreme weather events, disease outbreaks, and farm yields gradually deteriorating due to various climate-related disturbances like soil changes, pests, drought, or flooding.