It’s no secret that climate change is a huge priority for young people – polls consistently show Generation Z and Millennials rank the emerging crisis as one of their biggest concerns. But it’s not just young liberals and progressives – young conservatives like me care far more about climate change than some realize.
This growing generational divide between younger and older conservatives is explored in a recent NPR story, on young leaders from more conservative political circles emerging in the fight against climate change. The piece is absolutely worth a read and/or listen! But this quote, from former South Carolina Republican Congressman and longtime conservative climate change advocate Bob Inglis, might be the perfect summation of why young conservatives differ from their parents: “I think it’s that they, along with their progressive friends, plan on living on the earth longer than, say, their parents or grandparents.”
Environmental stewardship as an intrinsically conservative position is discussed in the piece, as well. Young conservative leader Benji Backer, founder of the American Conservation Coalition, said of his family:
“They were Audubon members, Nature Conservancy members. But they were conservative, and I grew up not thinking that the environment should be political at all.”
NPR backs up the powerful anecdotes with recent polling from Pew Research, which laid out a number of stark climate change and clean energy contrasts between young conservatives and their elders. It’s definitely worth reading over the results yourself, but a few highlights:
- 43 percent of Millennial/Generation Z Republicans said their communities were being impacted by climate change, compared to 33% of older Republicans.
- Perhaps most interestingly, nearly half (49%) of Millennial and Generation Z Republicans said the federal government isn’t doing enough to address the impacts of climate change. Boomer Republicans? Just 25%.
- Millennials/Generation Z Republicans are more likely (29%) to say human activity contributes to climate change compared to GOP Boomers (16%.)
Clean energy is where we really see young conservative support surge way ahead of their elders. Nearly 80% of Millennial and Generation Z said America should make alternative energy production a priority, ahead of fossil fuels (79%, to be precise.) For Boomers, just 55% feel that way. Nearly three in four Boomers and older Republicans support more want to see more offshore drilling, compared to just 45% of Millennials and Generation Z Republicans.
The NPR story is a good reminder that young people of different political persuasions are better climate change allies than you might think. And that’s incredibly good news – because as we look to tackle climate change and repair our COVID-battered economy, it will take a broad coalition of political support to get the sort of ambitious, lasting climate and clean energy policies we need. We have a long way to go before we get where we need to go. But young people from many political corners are all about getting there.
Taylor Redman is a Defend Our Future Campus Ambassador at Coconino College in Flagstaff, AZ.