As she spoke, one of her colleagues jeered at her age, shouting something indiscernible from his seat. With devastating concision, and like legions of teens on TikTok before her, Swarbrick replied without missing a beat: “OK, boomer,” she said, then continued her remarks.
The glib retort — often employed by millennials and Gen Z — has become global shorthand, a withering reply to condescension from older generations, notably, baby boomers. The viral phrase has also been labeled the latest shot fired in an escalating generation war, in which the front lines are social media comment sections and relations have frayed over issues such as student loan debt and climate change.
The reaction inside the New Zealand Parliament Building was muted — perhaps because the room was nearly empty, or perhaps because Swarbrick’s casual use of Internet jargon did not resonate with those in attendance, who, if they were like the average lawmaker, were twice her age.
Later, Swarbrick said some were upset with the interjection during the Tuesday speech, but she said she was simply responding to the heckling lawmaker in kind and meant no malice.
“Today I have learnt that responding succinctly and in perfect jest to somebody heckling you about *your age* as you speak about the impact of climate change on *your generation* with the literal title of their generation makes some people very mad,” she wrote on Facebook. “So I guess millennials ruined humour. That, or we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados. That’s the joke.”
Swarbrick, a member of the Green Party who assumed office in 2017, was speaking in support of landmark legislation that would set a countrywide target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. She called it “the starting line” for systemic change on the issue.
“How many world leaders for how many decades have seen and known what is coming but have decided that it is more politically expedient to keep it behind closed doors?” Swarbrick said. “My generation and the generations after me do not have that luxury.”
The plan, endorsed by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has faced opposition from farmers and some in the opposition National Party who say the benchmarks for methane reduction would be overly burdensome for the country’s large and influential agricultural industry.
“Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution,” said James Shaw, minister for climate change issues, when the legislation was introduced in May. Shaw, with Swarbrick, is one of the eight Green Party members in Parliament.
Swarbrick said her party is interested in more drastic policy changes but that this bill “represents the greatest consensus that we have managed to reach in this Parliament and across this government as a blueprint for climate action.”
As she spoke, Parliament TV’s closed captioning whirred as usual, transcribing the lawmaker’s speech. But the captions couldn’t keep up with her quip, quoting her as saying “OK, Berma.”
“The captions on Parliament TV clearly have not yet got the memo on millennial slang,” tweeted New Zealand Herald reporter Jason Walls.
The country’s official Parliament Twitter account replied with a mea culpa and a pledge: “We apologise for the error, and have updated the captions accordingly. Clearly we need to start doing all-office meme briefings.”