Millennials Confront Climate Change - Part I

Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Ben Link is a junior at American University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

In what’s being called “the largest mobilization against climate change in the history of the planet,” the People’s Climate March filled New York City’s streets with nearly 400,000 marchers on September 21st. Among the millennials in attendance were students representing more than 300 universities.

Source: New York Times

Source: New York Times

Executive Director of UPROSE, Elizabeth Yeampierre said in talking about the importance of youth involvement in the march, “[Youth] are the first and last generation that can make a difference in this global crisis. We have to work inter-generationally to build momentum for frontline communities and provide our people with the resources to address this complex issue.”

According to a 2014 Pew Research poll, only 32% of Millennials feel the term “environmentalist” describes them well, which is 10+ percentage points less than older generations. However, in a 2011 Pew survey, Millennials were found to be more supportive of stricter environmental laws, more likely to attribute global warming to human activity, and more likely to favor environmentally friendly policies.

These conflicting results make sense according to Matthew Stepp, Executive Director of the Center for Clean Energy Innovation and MAP policy adviser. He explains that millennials are simply seeking to re-envision environmentalism beyond the narrow span of strategies the term is often viewed with (i.e. making homes more green, recycling, saving the polar bears).

Millennials see environmentalism more as a value that should be incorporated into policy making on issues like economic growth, national security, and public health, than as an isolated public policy issue.

For example, Sense and Sustainability believes that “pro-environment/pro-development is obsolete and that the future of sustainable development lies in the intersection of the two.” This organization seeks to address the challenges of sustainable development through applying the latest scientific research to the real world.

The Why?/ Why Not? Campaign features videos of Millennials urging world leaders to reduce carbon emissions and pass policies directed towards a more clean energy future.

Additionally, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network publishes an annual journal of student-authored policy proposals concerning energy and the environment. Past journal submissions have highlighted Millennials’ understanding of the potential market-driven innovations withhold to reduce natural resource consumption, encourage the development of renewable energy sources, and create public-private partnerships essential to reforming energy markets. 

Source: Harald Pettersen/Statoil 

Source: Harald Pettersen/Statoil 

To illustrate, one student’s policy proposal stated that America was not realizing our full potential in offshore wind power. Thus, he supports policies that promote offshore wind turbines in collaboration with electric utility companies. He cites that such policies would stimulate economic growth through job creation and benefit the environment by turning to a cleaner energy source.  

Millennials may reject the label “environmentalist,” but that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on environmental protection. The Millennial presence at the People’s Climate March combined with the environmental organizations, initiatives, and policies they champion demonstrates our commitment to creating innovative solutions to our current environment and energy challenges.

In the next part of this blog series, we will consider the proposed bipartisan solutions in Congress regarding climate change. Click here to read Millennials Confront Climate Change - Part II.

Ben Link is a Policy Intern at MAP and is currently an undergraduate student at American University majoring in CLEG (Communication, Legal Studies, Economics, Government). Ben has served many campus positions including council member for the school’s grant program, the Eagle Endowment, director of the Student Government Community Service Coalition, and teaching assistant for the School of Public Affairs Leadership Program.

As a tax-exempt nonprofit organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Millennial Action Project (MAP) is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislative bodies in regards to policy and legislation. It is important to note guest authors frequently take firm stances on issues and policy matters that are currently being debated by policymakers; when they do, however, they speak for themselves and not for MAP, its board, council or employees.