Climate change is often caught up in a partisan light; best identified with Bernie Sanders, its public image is aligned as a talking point of Democrats and liberals. However, its impact is affecting Americans regardless of ideology, particularly with millennials who look at the world in terms of decades to come.
Today, hundreds of young conservatives from all over the country are convening for the Conservative Clean Energy Summit to discuss a clean energy future. Their support is not anathema to their ideology, but rather in their optimism for a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The event is spearheaded by Young Conservatives for Energy Reform and the Christian Coalition, and features remarks by Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Dean Heller of Nevada and many others.
These activists, who are strong soldiers in the conservative movements, are there for diverse reasons, from values voters who point to the dangerous role that toxics and dirty water have on the unborn, children and the poor; to national security hawks who note that energy independence can disentangle America from strife in global hotspots; to those who believe clean energy is a strong mechanism to address the threats of climate change, to a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs looking to create jobs.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has argued that climate change is a “hoax,” but a poll conducted for Young Conservatives for Energy Reform by former RNC Strategy Director Adrian Gray, 74 percent of self-identified conservatives under the age of 35 recognize that climate change is happening and 66 percent consider it a serious problem in need of addressing. In fact, only 2 percent of respondents identified that warming is driven entirely by natural causes, not man-made causes. This result shows that young conservatives believe transitioning to clean energy will increase global competitiveness (58 percent), will benefit national security (54 percent) and that there is a moral obligation to act (53 percent).
For this group, many of whom are passionate around social issues, the argument of acting on climate is a key issue for protecting the unborn, children and the poor. Additionally, warming and related flooding have become contributing factors in the expansion of Zika in the United States and a dramatic increase in cases of Lyme disease.
Many arguments against transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources like wind and solar posit that this action would create significant unemployment. However, jobs numbers point to the fact that jobs in the solar sector alone are far more numerous than those in the coal industry. This point resonates with young conservatives; only 31 percent believe that this transition to clean energy would cause job loss. This constituency does break from liberals, with support for a market approach, with 72 percent arguing against any “one size fits all” approach from the federal government.
Energy independence remains a high priority for this sector, with 77 percent of respondents arguing that transitioning to renewable energy sources will disentangle the United States from reliance on foreign oil from the Middle East. This argument is backed by prominent national security experts including Trump campaign adviser James Woolsey and former George W. Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden. Their arguments link the role that drought and rising food costs have to terrorism in global hot spots such as Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. This position is supported by 60 percent of young conservatives.
This generation is generally more comfortable with climate science and an understanding of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from its inclusion at the secondary and collegiate-level required courses. Additionally, they have personally observed a changing world and rising temperatures with their own eyes — viewing glaciers that have consistently receded in places like Montana, drought conditions leading to the rising cost of food coming from California and the Midwest, or the regular flooding in South Florida.
Regardless of their motivations for action, it is clear that young conservatives see the world as it is and where it’s headed and want solutions on climate.
Christian Berle is project manager of the Conservation Leadership Council at the Environmental Defense Fund (www.edf.org). He wrote this for InsideSources.com.