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Boomers vs. Generation Y: Is there a rift on energy views?

Stereotypes and many a bitter blogger suggest Baby Boomers are to blame, or thank, for supporting the rapid expansion of Canada's oil and gas sector.

But polls suggest Boomers' views are surprisingly close to those of their Generation Y offspring — and the vast majority of Canadians want to see a transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is speaking about the issue Tuesday in Vancouver at Bring Your Boomers, a series designed to foster intergenerational dialogue. The theme of the panel discussion is power and energy.

"The overarching problem is that no generation is really having influence on the political system relative to the concern that exists," Lee said in a phone interview Friday.

"Every generation wants action on these issues, but we have a breakdown in our political system because our politicians are not acting on those concerns."

A Harris/Decima poll commissioned by Tides Canada this summer found there was almost no difference between the generations in their sense of urgency about exporting more of Canada's oil and natural gas.

Asked to rate it as a top, high, medium, low or non-priority, 33 per cent of people across the country rated it as high or top priority. Responses hardly varied among age groups, however seniors' support was slightly higher at 39 per cent.

The biggest differences were revealed when pollsters asked how much of a priority should be placed on reducing carbon pollution and our reliance on fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

On the question of reducing carbon pollution, the percentage of Generation Y respondents that answered high or top-priority was 74 per cent, Generation X averaged 61 per cent and Boomers 65 per cent. However, given the sample size of 1005 respondents, the variations lie within the margin or error and could be statistically insignificant.

When asked to rate the importance of reducing Canada's reliance on fossil fuels, 75 per cent of Generation Y respondents aged 18 to 34 called it a high or top priority, compared to 65 per cent of Boomers ages 45 and up, and 61 per cent of Generation X, ages 35 to 44.

Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada, said support was uniform across age demographics and consistently higher than two-thirds for using a portion of the country's oil wealth to invest in and create more jobs in renewable energy, as well as improving energy efficiency.

"The gap's not that big," she said. "You could definitely say all generations are widely in support of transitioning our economy.... But younger generations are definitely more concerned about carbon pollution and Canada taking a role to reduce our carbon footprint."

The national poll was conducted between July 5 and 9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Metro asked the Bring Your Boomers panelists:

What do you see as being the primary role of your generation in addressing Canada's energy challenges?

Boomer: Karen Cooling, 54

Boomer: Karen Cooling, 54

Union Rep at the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP)

"Our generation is clearly responsible for delivering this impending catastrophe into the lives of our children and grandchildren. It is our responsibility to make both the personal changes needed as well as working for the system change required to ensure a sustainable future for all human beings on earth."

Generation X: Marc Lee, 42


"My generation is the U-turn generation. We need to stop the shift to extreme energy development that is warming the planet so that the next generation can move to a truly sustainable economy."

Generation Y: Damien Gillis, 33

Generation Y: Damien Gillis, 33

Documentary filmmaker, environmental journalist (co-founder and editor of The Common Sense Canadian)

"First Nations chiefs who recently confronted the Harper Government in Ottawa on resource issues told the media they were taking their cues from their young leaders. My generation will directly face the consequences of climate change so it is incumbent on us to tackle our failed energy policies. With powerful tools at our disposal like social media, film and new methods for movement building, we are ideally positioned to lead the way to a more sustainable future."

Generation Z: Ta'Kaiya Blaney, 11

Generation Z: Ta'Kaiya Blaney, 11

Singer, songwriter, actor, activist

"We need to be looking at a energy supply that benefits not only the earth presently, but the many generations of life to come. For us children I find it critically important that we take part in this fight and battle to convince our leaders into switching our main power source for this will be the future our children will one day grow up in."

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