By Paritosh Kasotia
I was at a Citizens Climate Lobby event last night. During Q&A, a lady who described herself as a baby boomer asked a very simple question, how do we engage the millennials? My first reaction was aren’t millennials already engaged? I thought data shows that we deeply care about issues such as climate change, human rights, democracy and other social subjects. We are even willing to give up lucrative careers to address the world’s toughest challenges. But, I don’t blame the boomers. In the room where we had our gathering, except for a handful of us, majority of the folks fell in the 40-70 age group.
That conversation made me wonder if there is simply a perceptive disconnect or the millennials are truly disengaged from the political process when it comes to the issue of climate change. Research strikingly shows not much. A study conducted by Statista in March 2014 observed attitudes about climate change among different age groups. On the question of whether climate change is real and whether humans are to blame for it, 50% of millennials (18-36) answered yes compared to 37% Matures (68+), 43% Gen X (37-48) and 47% Baby Boomers (49-67). On another University of Texas-Austin Energy poll last year, 66% of young adults (18-34) indicated they would prefer to vote for a political candidate who supports cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increase financial incentives for renewable energy compared to 50% of seniors (65+) who indicated they would support such candidates. 56% of the Millennials are also willing to pay more to protect the environment compared to 20% of seniors. The real issue is not that we don’t know about climate change or don’t care enough about it but maybe we are not engaged in ways that would result in meaningful outcomes.
So, what could we, the millennials, do differently to have profound impact? For one, we need to get more active “offline” than “online”. I, similar to many others, “like”, “share”, and “post” number of climate related articles, blogs, and commentary on social media space. We even give our strong opinions on these topics. But, how many of us actually present our views in front of our elected officials, our policymakers and our stakeholders. Powerful lobbying groups, on the other hand, have an army of individuals circling around our elected officials trying their best to get policies passed in their favor. There are indeed millennials who are very active in the public space but those numbers are very few. To create a force, we need more than just a handful.
Secondly, we are certainly vocal about our opinions but those are not necessarily reflected in our voting patterns. Studies have documented multiple times that older voters are likely to vote on a consistent basis than young voters. An NBC article shows that electorate in midterm elections was much older than in presidential elections. In 2012 presidential elections, 25% of voters were age 60 and older while 19% were under 30 years old. In the 2014 midterm elections, 37% of the voters were over the age of 60 and only 12% were under 30 years old. Not being active in midterm elections is a missed opportunity to advance critical topics such as climate change, wage laws, education and so on. Despite having a President who is working towards aggressive climate goals, without a Congress that is able to provide some level of meaningful support, carrying the climate change movement forward will be tough.
In a world filed with special interest groups and campaign finance, it is very easy to give up on the system and disengage. But doing do will only make the system hard to mend.
The millennials and the generations that follow will be hit hardest by the calamities of climate change. Having an opinion on climate change may not be enough. As Marshall Saunders, founder of Citizens Climate Lobby spoke last night, “I assumed that the important people were making important decisions”. That, of course, is far from reality. And so, it is imperative that everyone, millennials and boomers, rise and engage in what is important.