A major hurdle as the United States tries to do its part to counter climate change is resistance from Republican politicians. So far, most of them have been able to sit on the sidelines because GOP voters are less troubled by climate change than Democratic voters. Asked late last year if “the federal government should do more to protect people from global warming’s impacts,” 88 percent of Democrats said yes, compared to only 33 percent of Republicans.
But that gap may narrow significantly before too much longer. There is increasing evidence that young Republicans view climate change as a threat to our health and economy and that they believe our leaders must act. A recent survey by the Alliance for Market Solutions found that nearly 60 percent of young Republicans acknowledge that human-induced climate change is real, as do 88 percent of young Democrats. A majority of young people of both parties said they believe steps should be taken to slow or stop climate change.
“Young voters don’t necessarily have strong views on what should be done about climate change, but doing nothing is not a path that most young people, including Republicans, tend to support,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, the Republican strategist who conducted the survey.
Given those findings, it’s no surprise that Republican organizations (and a few non-Republican ones) at 23 colleges have created a coalition called Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD). They endorse the Baker-Shultz fee-and-dividend proposal, which would put a $40 price on carbon and return all the proceeds to Americans via a quarterly dividend.
One of those young Republicans is Dylan Jones, a senior who chairs the University of Kansas College Republicans. He supports President Trump and gun rights and opposes abortion. He also is in favor of the Baker-Shultz concept. “We can’t continually deny that something is happening,” Jones told Amy Harder of Axios. “We can question what is causing it, why this is happening, how this is happening, but we need to come up with solutions.”
He also told her that he’s not sure if climate change will affect him in his lifetime and hasn’t thought of leaving the GOP because of it. Jones nonetheless supports action to address the risks. He thinks a carbon tax, which internalizes the environmental impact of fossil fuels, is the best conservative approach.
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that a college-age person--Republican, Democrat, or neither--takes climate change seriously. As Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic recently: “Eighteen of the 20 years she has been alive have ranked among the warmest ever recorded. But through those two decades, the United States has not moved much closer to doing anything about the underlying problem: human-caused climate change. Maybe 20-year-olds can help.”
The founder of S4CD is Alexander Posner, a Yale history major. “Adult leaders have not acted efficiently or effectively on this issue, and we are stepping forward to fill the void,” he said to Meyer. “I think a lot of young conservatives are frustrated by the false choice between no climate action and a big government regulatory scheme. They feel pressured that those are the only two options, and they’re hungry for a conservative pathway forward on climate.
“The other thing that’s unique here is that the elder statesmen of the Republican Party are kind of uniting with the younger generation, to press the middle generation to act on climate.” By “elder statesmen” Posner meant former Secretaries of State James Baker and Charles Shultz, the Hoover Institution’s Thomas Stephenson, and several other esteemed Republicans who combined to promote the fee-and-dividend proposal last year.
Shultz expressed enthusiasm about S4CD, telling Time magazine that the swelling support from young conservatives will act as a “shot in the arm” for conservative efforts to address climate change. “All the major actions in the conservation area have been taken under the leadership of Republican presidents,” said Shultz, referring to the creation of the National Park System and EPA, among other things. “There are a few people who have fallen off the bandwagon, but we’ll get back to our tradition. And the college Republicans show how that’s going to happen.”
“I’m very pleased to see College Republicans leading on this issue,” said Edward Maibach, a professor of climate-change communication at George Mason University. “The Republican party has a clear climate-change problem,” he told The Atlantic. “Being on the wrong side of the scientific facts is bad for the party, bad for the country, and bad for the world. When college Republicans come out in large numbers in support of a revenue-neutral price on carbon, it will speak loudly to Republican members of Congress who are going to need the support of those voters at the next election, and the next, and so on.”
In an interview with Time magazine, S4CD founder Posner said, “College Republicans say they’re struggling to recruit on campus, often because of the climate issue. Strategically there’s a real interest and value in conservatives taking an active stance on this issue.”
It might sound like an uphill battle for a group of adolescents to get congressional Republicans mobilized in the fight against climate change, Grist’s Zoya Teirstein wrote. But, according to Posner, most elected officials have yet to feel the true power of the students involved in the coalition. After all, many of them haven’t had a chance to vote.
“We haven’t had much say over political positions in the past or present,” Posner told Grist. “Our goal is to have a say over the political positions of the future.”