The lines could not be more clearly drawn.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has clearly positioned climate change and the effort to reverse global warming as one of the centerpieces of her campaign. The Democratic Party’s platform agrees with the science recognizing a warming climate and attributing it to human activity. It also calls for putting a price (feel free to call it a tax) on carbon emissions.
Republican nominee Donald Trump, in the words of this New York Times article, “has gone further than any other Republican nominee in opposing climate change policy.” He refers to global warming as “a hoax.” The Republican Party’s platform is right there with him, calling climate change policy “the triumph of extremism over common sense.”
Needless to say, climate change is but one of many issues that voters will consider this November. For many, climate change and the environment in general, while important, will take a back seat to hot button topics including jobs, the economy and national security. Not to mention the seemingly endless list of character flaws brought to our attention each day by the candidates who the polls tell us are the two least-liked, least-trusted candidates in American presidential election history.
But for those who do view the health and future of our planet as an important factor in choosing the next president, the choice seems clear. Conversely, for those who are skeptical of climate change science and also stand firmly against any policies and regulations that may increase the costs of energy, there will be no hesitation.
Okay, fair enough. So where does America stand today? A Gallop poll taken in March tells us that 65% of Americans believe that human activity is playing a part in the warming of the planet. That’s a 10-point increase from just a year ago. Heck, even 38% of Republicans believe it, up 4 points from last year.
But there is another number in the same poll that jumps out even more. Fully 76% of Americans aged 18-29 believe human activity is causing or contributing to global warming. Those are the same Americans we commonly refer to as Millennials. And there are a lot of them. In fact, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest American generation.
Should the Republicans, who have just published a platform that calls climate change policy “extremism” and have nominated a candidate who claims global warming is a “hoax,” be worried about those numbers?
That depends on a couple of things. First, are Millennials politically active? Will they vote? Second, if they are voting in large numbers, is the environment high on their list of political priorities?
Where can we find the answers to those questions? In the one place where Millennials are talking – social media.
Take a look at these charts measuring activity and interest based on social media use and conversations:
Millennials Grew Up Being Environmentally Conscious, So These Issues Are Very Relevant To Them Because They Understand The Importance Of Protecting Our Climate.
According to the NextGen website, “Much more than previous generations, Millennials grew up with things like recycling, turning off appliances and lights when not in use, and awareness of energy efficiency as the norm. As a result, environmental concerns are ingrained in their identity, and young voters understand the importance of protecting our climate.” [NextGen Climate, 4/29/16]
However there’s this…
Millennials Have Punched Below Their Electoral Weight In Recent Presidential Elections. For A Host Of Reasons, Young Adults Are Less Likely To Vote Than Their Older Counterparts, And Millennials Are No Exception. [PewResearch, 5/16/16]
In 2016, For The First Time, Millennials Will Be As Large A Share Of The Eligible Voting Population As Boomers, Roughly 30 Percent. That Said, Boomers Are Still Expected To Outvote Millennials This Year. [Vox, 4/30/16]
While The Growth In The Number Of Millennials Who Are Eligible To Vote Underscores The Potential Electoral Clout Of Today’s Young Adults, Millennials Remain Far From The Largest Generational Bloc Of Actual Voters. It Is One Thing To Be Eligible To Vote And Another Entirely To Cast A Ballot. [PewResearch, 5/16/16]
So, less than three months from a national election, where does that leave us? I guess time will tell. If history is precedent and Millennials continue to be outvoted by Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe the Republicans won’t get bitten on the environmental issue. Not this year anyway. But even a lot of Republican sages are saying that Millennials’ attitudes will have to be respected and accounted for in future elections.
Republican Pollster Bill Mcinturff : “I Kind Of Hate To Say It, But The Millennial Generation Is Now Important. Their Views Are Becoming The Dominant Public Views. Their Attitudes About Gay Marriage And Social Tolerance Are Radically Different Than The Previous Generations, And They Are Restructuring Our Views.” [NextGen Climate, 4/29/16]
Then again, it’s entirely possible that jobs, the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, e-mail servers, personal tax returns and an unending barrage of personal attacks will overshadow the environment this time as a tipping point for presidential voters. The first debate in September should be a good indicator. If that happens, watch for energy and environment to bubble up instead as issues further down the ballot in states that produce large amounts of fossil fuels (West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado) as well as those where renewable energy sources are plentiful (California, Arizona, Nevada).
But whether or not energy, climate change and the environment become flashpoints in this year’s national election, two facts remain. First, energy and the environment is one of the rare issues that affect everyone, independent of wealth, race, age, party affiliation, sexual orientation or religion. Without a healthy planet, none of that other stuff is going to matter. Second, the strength and political influence of the Millennial Generation is going to do nothing but grow in the coming years. And Millennials care about our planet. Deeply.
Any politician, party or political entity that fails to recognize those facts moving forward does so at their own peril. The same goes for any company, group or institution whose existence is affected by the decisions those politicians and parties make (and I can’t think of any that aren’t).
However, those who do speak, and act, responsibly to those concerns will be heard by the most environmentally aware generation America has ever produced.