Climate Change Is Going To Cost Millennials More Than College–If We Don’t Act

This generation is going to pay the price tag as the toll of climate change takes hold.

Climate Change Is Going To Cost Millennials More Than College–If We Don’t Act
[Photo: Stephen Arnold via Unsplash]

What with record-high college debt and the Great Recession, millennials have already felt a lot of economic pain. (Their parents, by contrast, seemed to float through college, no debt, and emerge comfortably into retirement.) But even after all this, millennials have an even worse economic hurdle in front of them: climate change. They’ll be the first generation to bear the costs of weather damages and infrastructure challenges.


In the worst case–if we fail to do anything to counteract climate change–millennials could face steep penalties. A 21-year-old college graduate in the class of 2015 earning a median income would face losses of $126,000 in lifetime income and $187,000 in wealth, says the new report, from the think tank Demos and NextGen Climate. That’s more than that newly minted grad paid for college at a four-year public university, at today’s average costs, and about the same if her or she went to a private school.

“Millennials face a challenge unlike anything previous generations have had to tackle. Unless our elected leaders take aggressive and immediate action, the millennial generation will have to live with the devastating economic health and environmental impacts of climate change,” the groups say.

The report paints a fairly bleak picture of the future. It says “quality full-time jobs are out of reach for many young people, wages have stagnated, and millennials have less wealth and financial stability than previous generations.” College debt is sky high. And those without a benefit-paying jobs are stuck with high health and child care costs.

But climate change, potentially at least, tops that. Losses from extreme weather, sea level rise, and crop reductions will sap GDP, previous research has shown. The report compares GDP-per-person income levels in a scenario where we act aggressively on climate change and one where we don’t. It also calculates the loss of wealth from additional income not being saved and made into wealth. Things will be worst for the children of millennials. Someone born in 2015 will lose more than $350,000 in lifetime income, and more than $500,000 in wealth.

The report makes a strong point about the costs of inaction in slowing and mitigating climate change. Doing nothing now, or even an insufficient amount, is likely to have serious, horribly insidious, costs down the line, especially by the middle of the century.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.