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To win over young voters, Republicans must take a stand on climate change

SHARE To win over young voters, Republicans must take a stand on climate change

In this July 27, 2018, file photo, the Dave Johnston coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo.

J. David, Ake, Associated Press

The 2020 Republican National Convention lasted four days and featured over 70 speakers. The wide range of topics addressed included immigration, education, health, housing and policing. And yet, no speech proposed a single policy designed to combat climate change, arguably the single most politically and electorally significant issue of our time.

At no point did anyone from the GOP acknowledge the seriousness of our current environmental predicament, or the role it is playing in American politics today. Less than a week later, Sen. Ed Markey won his tight primary race thanks to a surge of support from young voters following his embrace of environmental issues.

Two plus two makes four. Voters — especially young ones — care about the planet, and the GOP is flat-out refusing to engage with them on those issues. If the Republican party wants to stand any chance of winning over young voters, it has no choice but to address its climate problem.

America has moved past the age of climate denialism. Calling climate change a “Chinese hoax” might have played in candidate Trump’s favor in 2016, but things are quite different for the president in 2020. An overwhelming majority of Americans now believe that the federal government is not doing enough to mitigate the effects of global shifts in the climate.

This effect is even more pronounced among young voters. Over three-quarters of millennial and younger Republicans believe that green energy development should be more of a priority for the United States, and that the expansion of fossil fuels ought to come to a grinding halt.

Trump can’t stick to the same playbook he used four years ago. He can’t go on completely ignoring the environment, before plonking a senior oil executive in the state department, this time around. He’s trailing in the polls, and he’s showing a great deal of cowardice by refusing to budge from his comfort zone and steering well clear of uncomfortable issues like climate change.

The numbers suggest pandering to his base — and only his base — as Trump is doing now, may not be enough to secure a second term. Trump needs to prove that he can be a president of the future, as well as the past and present. As American Conservation Coalition president Benji Backer puts it, the GOP is “leaving an entire generation of young voters behind.”

Now is the time for the right to show the world that it has plenty to contribute to the climate debate and that capitalistic environmentalism is a viable way forward. We must seize that opportunity. Showing a commitment to protecting our planet is the key to winning over those millennial and Generation Z voters, who fear for their futures more than any of their predecessors.

There is a cataclysmic gap in the market for positive environmentalism. Our public discourse is crying out for an optimistic perspective that eschews doom-mongering, yet accepts climate science; that offers a feasible, constructive way forward, without the authoritarian horrors of the leftist approach, as seen in the Green New Deal.

There is no shortage of proven ways to do this. Clean tax cuts and tax-exempt clean asset bonds allow the state to step back and pave the way for private investments and innovation in environmental areas. Similarly, clean free trade would show that the GOP can maintain its “America First” stance while still meeting its international obligations and working constructively with other nations around the world.

Investing in green infrastructure and technology would boost American industry and place the US.. at the forefront of cutting-edge scientific developments. By diverting government funds away from fossil fuels and towards the likes of nuclear energy and biotechnology, Republicans could give American trade a much-needed leg-up today and safeguard the natural world for tomorrow — as well as earning the votes of plenty of young eco-nuts in November.

It makes a great deal of sense for the American right to get behind these kinds of forward-looking policies, which showcase its ability to engage with the pivotal issue du jour, in addition to gaining vital ground on Democrats in an as yet untouched arena.

It was barely a month ago that President Trump signed the momentous Great Outdoors Act into law. It is essential, both for his chances in November and for America’s future, that that move does not become a footnote in history, but instead marks the start of a new age of conservative environmentalism.

Jason Reed is digital director at the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices contributor. He writes for the Times of London, the Independent, the Telegraph and several others. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonReed624.