Young people are out of class and in the street, demanding action, and millions of them will soon be in the voting booth. In the process, they are fundamentally changing the politics of climate change.
Few issues have galvanized young voters more than climate action.
73% disagree with Trump’s climate policies
A Pew Research Center survey shows that 79% of Americans ages 18 to 29 are “very or fairly worried about climate change.” The Harvard Institute of Politics reports that 50% of likely voters in that age group consider climate change “a crisis and demand urgent action.”
This political energy is not good news for the president since 73% of young voters disapprove of the approach Donald Trump has taken on climate change, the Harvard poll shows.
They don’t fall as easily for lies
Consider this: Young people are probably less susceptible to misinformation by those who deny the scientific reality, which helps explain why they are now refusing to accept inaction on climate.
The signs of a changing climate have been all around young Americans their whole lives – more destructive storms in the Southeast, repeated flood devastation in the Midwest and raging wildfires in California.
If you’re under 33, you’ve never lived one month that was below average temperature.
They see what new technology can do
Young voters have also seen clean energy transformed from an environmental vision to an economic reality. Someone who’s now in high school has seen solar energy costs drop nearly 90% since they were in kindergarten. Wind prices are almost 70% lower.
In many places, it’s now cheaper to build new renewables than to run existing coal-fired power plants. April was expected to be the first month in our history as an industrial nation that clean energy produced more power for the U.S. economy than coal.
Such developments are not lost on young people who see a clean energy future as both an urgent necessity and a very realistic option.
Millions more will head to the polls in 2020
These young people can’t be an afterthought in politics.
Nearly a third of all eligible voters are under 35, making them the largest and most diverse voting bloc in the country. By 2020, several million more Generation Z’ers – part of a 70-million cohort born between 1996 and the early 2000s – become eligible to vote.
And they appear to be voting in higher numbers. In the 2018 midterm elections, this group had the highest rate of turnout in at least 25 years.
Young people today know that climate change is, at its core, older generations polluting at the expense of those who will come after. Americans who are just beginning their adult lives are not willing to put up with business-as-usual if it means damaging the world they will inherit.
Out with the old, in with the new
Today, a new generation of Americans is insisting on bold action from members of Congress – who, despite the infusion of youth in 2018, maintain an average age of 58 in the House and 63 in the Senate.
Even young Republicans, presumably more favorably disposed to Trump, see the reality of climate change. Pew reports that almost 60% of young Republicans agree that climate change is already having some effect on the United States.
Office holders who still deny the severity of the problem can shake their fists and yell at the protesters from their front porches, but they will be increasingly irrelevant in our political debate.