With Donald Trump’s totally normal-sized hands about to grab the presidency, the future of our planet is in grave peril, because Trump has already shown little to no interest in tackling the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. Trump has already stated that he plans to renegotiate the Paris Accords, which was a landmark development in the fight against climate change, and that he believes climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese government. The latter he claims was a joke, but, as with so many of the proclamations Trump makes, it’s never quite clear at any given moment what Trump actually believes and what he says because he thinks it will get a crowd’s approval. A line of his can be a joke one moment, a policy position the next.
However, what is clear is that those around Trump, ranging from the GOP Congress to his pick for the Environmental Protection agency, Scott Pruitt, are either still unconvinced by the science of climate change or outright believe it is an invention by liberal scientists. Furthering this catastrophe is that the actions Obama took to combat climate change were not nearly enough; in order to stop climate change, not only would the next president have to uphold Obama’s changes, s/he would also have to institute new, more daring measures. There’s little chance of this happening while Trump and his merry band of climate deniers roam the halls of DC.
This represents a grave danger for the entire world, considering that America is the second largest polluter in the world, but it is up to the American public to do its best to reverse course. Will a Democratic president in 2020 be too little too late? Most likely. But it’s not impossible that the worst effects of climate change can still be avoided. The key to that is for the Democrats (or some unheard of third party that magically arises within the next four years—hey, Trump is president, so stranger things have happened) to activate a voting bloc that will have a vested interest in curbing climate change: millennials. Older voters, who already tend to vote conservative, do not have to fear seeing the most drastic effects of climate change in their lifetimes; millennials most certainly do.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many millennials flocked to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. While millennials are as divided as most generations on the question of climate change’s legitimacy, those who do believe in it are well aware of how it will affect their lives. During the primary, most of the attention on Sanders focused on his calls for economic overhaul, but just as strong were his cries to take actions against climate change. He issued a specific policy piece on what he planned to do, and he made sure to bring it up in the Democratic debates, repeatedly pointing to the fact that his positions were stronger than Clinton’s. Clinton herself talked about climate change in order to beat Sanders and show she was as progressive as him, but once she gained the nomination, her mentions of it declined.
Not surprisingly, millennials were not as keen on her candidacy as she would have liked. Democratic pundits started to pick up on this in the lead-up to the election, hoping millennials would get in line. Perhaps Clinton should have spoken about this key issue facing them.
Hearing Sanders’ rhetoric on climate change no doubt played a part in millennials’ decision to vote for him over Clinton in the primary. For millennials who pay attention, climate change is a piano dangling over their futures. As one such millennial, I can attest that it is strange to establish myself in an economic system that will probably be in complete upheaval due to global warming within the next few decades. Many coastal areas, including the area near where I live, will be flooded as the world hits the 2° temperature increase or, as is increasingly possible, the 4° increase. This will require mass movements that will affect most areas of the country. After all, where will the people on the coasts go? Inland.
And, of course, that is just the United States. Flooding and climate abnormalities will hit other areas of the globe even harder, thus forcing more migration. Recall how chaotic the situation with Syrian refugees has been and how much debate there has been over who should and should not harbor them. Multiply that conflict several times over and just try and guess how that will be handled. The United States, whether it likes it or not, will absolutely be involved in dealing with the refugees caused by climate change. Then factor in the United States’ obsession with becoming involved in whatever violent conflict crops up; migration due to climate change is sure to cause conflicts as nations are destabilized. Do millennials want to have their country involved in that, too, along with the unending war on terror?
Even assuming mass movements are not as chaotic as they sound, millennials can look forward to a massive bill: $8.8 trillion, to be precise. As Vice notes, this bill will likely come due when millennials are in their prime earning years. With retirement not too far away, millennials will not want to be smacked with a massive bill; right now, however, it seems to be a certain future.
Ostensibly, the Democrats are willing to fight against climate change. In reality, it’s an issue that they have not embraced to the extent they should have. With the Republicans’ views on science akin to an intellectual wasteland, the Democrats could paint a sharp contrast between themselves the party that is willing to let the world flood so they can get a little more of that sweet oil industry money. This would require the Democrats to sell climate change as an important issue, and the audience they would have to sell it to the most is millennials. Not known for taking risks, the Democrats are unlikely to do this. However, they have also lost complete government control after losing an election many of them thought was a safe bet.
So now, more than ever, is the time for them to try a new tactic. This would require them explaining to the American public what climate change is—far too many seem focused on the idea that it will just feel a little warmer outside—in terms the layperson can understand. It will also require laying out the consequences I listed above, and the policies that would prevent them. If this sounds like a hard task for a political party still reeling from a massive loss, it is. But it’s not impossible. Thousands and thousands of millennials came out to hear Sanders deliver policy speeches on economic inequality and global warming. He didn’t give soundbites, and none were expected of him by the audience. Yet still they came, listened, learned, and voted.
Right now, the Democratic National Committee is in upheaval over who will run it. Whoever it turns out to be would do well to listen to a staffer named Zach who became famous for telling off Donna Brazile just after Clinton’s loss. He told Brazile, “You and your friends will die of old age and I’m going to die from climate change.” Zach knows what faces millennials in this country, an issue almost entirely ignored in the 2016 presidential election. If the DNC can respond to this concern then they have a much better chance of bringing out voters not just in 2020, but also in 2018 and 2022, midterms years, the type of year Democrats often struggle when it comes to getting out the vote.
Instead of focusing people’s attention on a specific figure, like Barack Obama, the Democrats could rally their base around individual issues. In the early and mid ‘00s, the Republicans used this strategy by invoking the specters of gay marriage and stem cell research. In the ‘80s, they used crime. Democrats have tended to lay their hopes on a personality instead of an issue that excites (or terrifies) voters; this mistaken tactic has led them to where they are now.
At this point, millennials can’t do much other than ignore climate change in their day-to-day lives. Without a political apparatus to challenge it, it would appear hopeless to the average person, the person who is not active on the ground but votes every few years. Hearing the effects of climate change is an almost overwhelming feeling for those of us who will be alive when it takes full effect. Even while doing research for this article, I found myself struggling to conceptualize the damage that climate change will wreak on our world. I also struggled to conceptualize the fact that so few political organizations are devising strategies to curb climate change.
It appears to be a hopeless situation. But imagine being the party that offers some hope, that gives solutions to what could be the most destabilizing event in the recent history of our planet. That, to me, sounds like a party that could actually win elections on a consistent basis both up and down the ticket.
But if the Democrats continue to ignore the issue then so, too, will millennials, too depressed to contemplate the future. Yet, thoughts of the future will still slip in, little bits of fear when the latest environmental report comes out or when another super storm smacks into the East Coast. Or maybe it’ll be a quiet moment, like last summer, when I jogged on the boardwalk at the beach just ten miles south of where I live. I paused for a moment to regain my breath and looked out at the waves eating away at the sand as high-tide came in. It hit me then how this area wouldn’t be here for much longer. I’d seen the maps that showed the areas that would succumb to climate change, and the boardwalk would be one of them, well underwater. Barring an injury, I’ll still be jogging in my fifties, but I won’t be jogging on that boardwalk. It’ll be long gone. I’d love to be given some hope that more won’t go with it.