Republicans Have a Climate Change ProblemPhoto by Scott Olson/Getty Politics Features climate change
Well, we all do. The literal end of the world as we know it is going to affect each and every one of us whether we believe it is happening or not. This is a fact that transcends political partisanship amongst the generations who must live with the immense failure of our parents and grandparents. Older Republicans essentially adopt the position that climate change does not exist and it is not something to be concerned about, while younger Republicans are more likely to side with the aggressive vision of Bernie Sanders than the know-nothing denialist vision of their elders.
Just 32% of baby boomer Republicans and older say they are seeing some effects of global climate change on their communities, versus 47% of millennial and gen Z Republicans who say their communities are actively being destroyed by the biggest existential threat to mankind’s existence. Imagine a world where half of the roughly 12 million millennial Republicans vote explicitly on combating climate change (to put that figure in context, Hillary won by 2.8 million votes), and you can see how inaction on this issue is essentially an ever-escalating game of Russian roulette voluntarily being played by the GOP.
A survey taken by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) paints an even bleaker vision for the GOP than this week’s Pew report:
Over two-thirds of millennial GOP voters (67%) believe the Republican Party needs to do more while one in five are undecided (21%) on the issue.
Over three in four (78%) millennial Republicans support the government taking action to accelerate the development of clean energy.
Among gender and age breaks, over a majority of men (58%) and women (53%) aged 18-30 agree that ignoring climate change will be harmful to the party.
More than four in five (82%) millennial Republicans say it is very important or at least somewhat important for the U.S. to expand and use renewable energy, with only one in ten (10%) stating it is not that important or not important at all.
Republicans spend a lot of time freaking out about the changing demographics of America, and how the fact that we are projected to become a majority-minority country by 2045 is the flashpoint for the rise of white nationalism in the GOP, but they should also worry about losing voters they already have who view standard GOP policy as a threat to their lives. It could not be clearer that the existing political and economic establishment—on the left, right and center—do not want to seriously address an ongoing crisis whose only solution is the radical reorganization of society as we know it.
Millennials understand that this is not an either/or issue as far as what climate change will do to the economy. If we do nothing to combat this threat, and the global temperature rises by two degrees Celsius, it will cost the world $69 trillion in damages. I’m no math major, but I’m pretty sure that is significantly more than Bernie Sanders’s $16 trillion plan for the Green New Deal. In fact, that massive figure is 86% of last year’s global GDP. If you want to boil this crisis down to nothing more than dollar figures in order to fit the extremely narrow gilded constraints of normal political discourse in this country, what we are talking about with climate change is a global economic collapse that will make the Great Depression look like a paper cut.
Republicans are in trouble because they have essentially gone all in on one constituency (old white men) to the detriment of all others. Millennial women have functionally abandoned the Republican Party, and the GOP wipeouts in the suburbs since 2016 are reason to believe that trend is extending to women in older generations as well. If you care about the future of the planet, then that means your priorities do not align with those of the Republican Party. On the whole, young Republicans understand this.
In the 1990s, the argument to combat climate change was portrayed as hippie environmentalist pie-in-the-sky thinking that had no basis in reality, and the Very Serious People ruled the discourse about What Is Possible (which simply translates to “whatever makes more money for rich people”). Now, the fact that those of us who have not buried our heads in the sand can see hellish reality of climate change all around us has rendered the Very Serious People the unserious ones, as in order to make their Very Serious argument, they must deny observable reality. Doing nothing to fight climate change is objectively the most expensive option, and no matter your political stripes, us young people would like to live on the same habitable planet that our parents did (which is probably already a lost cause). If Republicans do not realize this simple fact rooted in human survivalist instincts, and at least acknowledge the need to do something in order to avoid making their children and grandchildren’s lives unbearably hopeless, then the party will follow in the footsteps of the millions of species currently going extinct due to climate change.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.