Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Motivate Millennials on Climate Change
As we mentioned in a previous post, climate change is emerging as a key issue in the Presidential campaigns. According to Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters, “The elevated conversation about climate change in this election is truly historic.”
Young voters, in particular, have the potential to make an enormous difference. Millennials now make up as large a segment of the American electorate as Baby Boomers. And they are overwhelmingly in favor of climate solutions – far more so than their parents’ generation. In a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote survey of Millennials conducted in January 2016, 80 percent of respondents said the U.S. “should transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030.”
One reason Millennials are more concerned about climate change is that they understand their generation will bear the brunt of climate impacts. They face a lifetime of living in a changed world, with more severe droughts, more extreme weather, and potential food shortages, unless something is done, and soon.
So will concerns about climate change draw young voters to the polls in record numbers, as philanthropist Tom Steyer believes? Maybe… or maybe not.
Concern Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Action
Though Millennials may be passionate about the environment and many other progressive issues, they are historically much less likely than Boomers to vote. In the 2012 presidential election, just 46 percent of eligible Millennials cast a ballot, versus 69 percent of Boomers. Steyer is aware of the disparity.
“As I traveled around the country in the 2014 election cycle, I saw that young voters care deeply about climate change, but what they haven’t been is as engaged in the electoral process as older Americans,” said Tom Steyer in April.
To address this, he has launched a $25 million voter drive aiming to raise turnout among Millennials in battleground states, and elect candidates who support strong climate policies.
One of the main challenges facing Steyer and others who want to motivate young voters is disillusionment. Millennial voters who flocked to Bernie Sanders because of his willingness to call climate change an urgent issue and his sweeping plans to address it don’t necessarily have the same warm feelings for Hillary Clinton. In fact, many young voters see very little difference between Clinton and Trump’s views on climate change.
Keeping climate issues at the forefront of discussions in the months leading up to the elections will help both increase voters’ understanding of where the candidates stand, and require candidates to clarify and potentially strengthen their positions in order to win voter support. This is true not only in the Presidential election, but in the Congressional elections. This November, 34 seats in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House are up for reelection. Voters have the potential to end the gridlock that has stalled meaningful climate progress by voting in candidates who favor climate action.
Communicating the Value of Raising Your Voice
One other reason young people are unlikely to vote is that they feel their vote doesn’t really matter. It’s important to show them that their actions can have a real impact. This new Rock the Vote video emphasizes that, if you don’t vote to support the issues you care about (whether the issue is climate change, gun control, or LGBT rights), someone else will make those decisions for you, and they may not be decisions you like.
Another new video, from Green Chalice, United Church of Christ, and our faith program Blessed Tomorrow, helps inspire young people to climate action by emphasizing that transformative change requires all of us. Only by moving from a mentality of selfish consumption to one of collective, positive energy can we build a better world. As the young people in the video proudly state, “I am more than me – I’m we.”
The video was shown at last week’s National Youth Event in Orlando, co-hosted by the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ and attracting some 4,000 young people. After watching the video, attendees were presented with a series of actions to take, from learning about their candidates’ climate views to cutting back on animal products.
Even if young people aren’t old enough to vote, it’s still worthwhile to teach them to care about and understand sustainability issues at an early age. Voting isn’t the only way to help ensure climate-friendly candidates get elected – this New Yorker article describes how two young Phoenix residents (Jacqueline Garcia, now 19, and her brother Luis, now 17) have been helping get out the local Latino vote by delivering ballots to polling places.
The desire to provide a safe, healthy, prosperous world for future generations is one of the most compelling factors in getting people to care about climate change. How much more compelling might it be for young people, who will be living in that future themselves? The key is in helping them to see that they have the power to shape that future, and that their voices and actions not only matter – they’re absolutely essential.