WASHINGTON — Some young conservatives, who are much more likely to see climate change as a priority than older Republicans, are frustrated by the climate platforms of both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden going into Tuesday’s election.
“We want to see climate change addressed in an actionable way. And that for us doesn’t mean the Green New Deal, but it also doesn’t mean just opposition to the Green New Deal with no other solution put forward,” said Karly Matthews, a 22-year-old communications director at the American Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit that engages young conservatives on environmental issues like climate change.
According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, Republicans who are Millennials or younger are much more likely to support alternative energy sources and believe that humans contribute to climate change than older Republicans. A separate election-based Pew Research poll found that almost half of Trump supporters who are Millennials or younger see climate change as very important or somewhat important, compared to only 37% of Gen X and Baby Boomer Trump supporters.
Elle Kalisz, a 21-year-old communications director for youth conservative organization Gen Z GOP, has been frustrated by the refusal of Trump and the Republican Party to take the climate change concerns of young Republicans seriously.
“It’s the Grand Old Party, and that old part is really hurting us right now,” said Kalisz. “It felt frustrating being a person within a party whose leader [President Trump] couldn’t even say that climate change was caused by humans up until a few weeks ago.”
Young conservatives, however, aren’t ready to get behind Biden just because he has a concrete plan to address climate change.
“We find Joe Biden’s plan to be a lighter version of the Green New Deal, which we do not support,” said Matthews.
Some young conservatives fear that the Biden plan on climate, which does not ban fracking and calls for a gradual shift away from fossil fuels, would be hijacked by more progressive Democrats once the election is over. They believe that it may morph into the Green New Deal, which they think is too dramatic and disruptive to ever function as actual government policy. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts sponsored the Green New Deal resolution on Feb. 7, 2019; it is a broad plan to drastically reduce U.S. reliance on and production of fossil fuels while promoting clean energy jobs.
Many climate-conscious young conservatives advocate for market-based solutions that limit greenhouse gases but maintain traditional GOP principles like market competition and limited government. For example, some young conservative groups support carbon dividends, a policy that imposes fees on businesses for every metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide that they emit.
Both Gen Z GOP and the American Conservation Coalition have chosen not to endorse a presidential candidate in this election. However, both organizations believe that it is possible to support Trump and still care about the environment.
“You will see young conservatives in this movement who are deeply committed to making progress in climate change that will go and vote for Donald Trump,” said Kalisz. “And I don’t think that makes them any less sound in their commitment to taking on this existential issue.”
Whatever the result on Tuesday, young conservative environmental activists are committed to rebranding the Republican party to one that prioritizes the health of the planet.
“For this party to have a future in politics, there has to be a planet for us to live on and there has to be a future for young people,” said Kalisz. “Republicans need to understand that climate change is not only real, but also that we need to take action now.”