Youth Voters and Environmental Activism
Posted December 6, 2012
My generation, the Millennials, has gotten a bad rap over the years. We are supposedly the Smartphone toting, headphone wearing, entitled, apathetic generation that has little regard for anything going on outside of our Facebook feeds. As a young environmental activist myself, I've always felt this reputation was undeserved, and this most recent election reminded me that a stereotype is merely that; conventions are constantly being shattered, and the pundits can always be proven wrong. My generation is critical to electoral success and we care deeply about global warming and environmental degradation. According to CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 50% of 18-29 year olds voted in the 2012 presidential election. This represents a 2% drop from 2008, when voters of all demographics voted in unusually high numbers to elect President Obama; however, it is still a substantial increase over the youth turnout in the 2004 and 2000 elections, when youth turnout was 48% and 41%, respectively. Young voters represented 19% of all voters in 2012, compared to 18% in 2008, and a whopping 60% of those voted for Obama, making it clear that young Americans can make an impact in the public forum. Overall, it seems that increased political engagement from younger voters is becoming “the new normal”, and that to win elections politicians will need to pay more attention to issues that concern us.
The GOP may have cost themselves the election for their failure to address the kinds of social and environmental concerns that are important to younger voters. Among voters 18-30, 71% support prioritizing development of alternative, green sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology, and only 25% supported prioritizing traditional sources including oil, coal and natural gas. More than any other generation, Millennials are convinced by the overwhelming evidence for global warming, by a margin of 64% to 43%. In fact, younger voters are so compelled by environmental issues, they’re taking their voices past the election and continuing to push their schools, governments, businesses and communities to take action on climate change.
A recent New York Times article highlighted the emergence of student campaigns demanding that their respective schools divest of their stock holdings in fossil fuel companies. The recent intensification in the divestment campaign has been largely motivated by 350.org, a prominent grassroots organization that focuses on climate change. The organization’s leader, Bill McKibben, has been touring the country by bus for the past several months rallying students, organizations and interested citizens to raise awareness of the need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm in order to preserve our planet. He likens the oil companies to big tobacco, saying “This is no different than the tobacco industry — for years, they lied about the dangers of their industry.” The biggest accomplishment of these campaigns thus far has been to push climate change to the forefront of the national political debate; however, more and more these student campaigns are being taken seriously by university administrators and a handful of schools have already accepted divestment plans under pressure from the student community. Yet this is only the most recent campaign in a long list of events and youth supported movements regarding environmental issues and climate change.
Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are tuned in to the national political conversation and they are taking real action to promote and influence the debate on issues like environmental consciousness and climate change. As the Young Democrats of America note, “Millennials volunteer in record numbers. They possess strong values and political opinions and connect volunteerism to social activism. And they will vote if asked.” Voters of all demographics and generations, especially Millennials, know that climate change is not just an issue that affects our future; it is affecting our environment right now. As politicians recognize Millennials as a political force and seek to address the issues that concern them, we hope to see legislation that finally recognizes and acts on this pressing threat to our planet.
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