'Light Years Ahead' Of Their Elders, Young Republicans Push GOP On Climate Change Climate change is major election issue for Democrats, but not Republicans. Yet polls show many young conservatives are concerned about climate impacts, and some are lobbying for solutions.

'Light Years Ahead' Of Their Elders, Young Republicans Push GOP On Climate Change

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A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that the top issue for Democratic voters this election is climate change. For Republicans, it barely registers. But there is a divide within the GOP on the issue. Other surveys show that younger Republicans are more concerned than their elders by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Benji Backer started the American Conservation Coalition in 2017 while still in college. He says his love of nature comes in part from his family.

BENJI BACKER: They were Audubon members, nature conservancy members, but they were conservative. And I grew up not thinking that the environment should be political at all.

BRADY: Yet these days, environmental politics dominate his life. From now until Election Day, Backer is driving an electric car across the country talking about his group's climate agenda and posting videos along the way.


BACKER: We are in the Teton National Park about to kick off the Electric Election Road Trip.

BRADY: Backer is promoting his group's American Climate Contract. That's his conservative, market-focused response to the Green New Deal. Backer is critical of fellow conservatives who ignore climate change. He's praised Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and says he wants to work with liberal climate activists to pass legislation. So how will he vote in November?

BACKER: If President Trump wants to get my vote, he's going to have to prioritize climate change in a way that he has not done over the past four years.

BRADY: Backer says he's undecided so far. He was disappointed climate change wasn't even discussed at the Republican National Convention. The Trump campaign says in a statement to NPR that the president has proven you can have energy independence and a clean, healthy environment. But the statement doesn't even mention climate change.

KIERA O'BRIEN: Young Republicans are light-years ahead of their elder counterparts on this issue.

BRADY: Kiera O'Brien heads Young Conservatives For Carbon Dividends, which supports a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She grew up in Alaska and says young people are motivated by mounting evidence that the climate is changing.

O'BRIEN: They're seeing the impacts firsthand, whether it's myself in Alaska with algal blooms that are turning the ocean weird colors or with flooding in the Gulf Coast or hurricanes that are unprecedented at this point. This is the climate generation, and people are witnessing these things that we had been told growing up were far off in real time.

BRADY: That urgency is prompting young conservatives to join others in their generation in pushing for more action on climate change, according to Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina.

BOB INGLIS: I think it's that they, along with their progressive friends, plan on living on the earth longer than, say, their parents or grandparents.

BRADY: Inglis now directs the conservative climate group republicEn. He says among young conservatives, addressing climate change is becoming a moral issue more than a political one. And that makes him optimistic the country will eventually take more action.

INGLIS: The demographics are definitely going to deliver a win for climate change. I am absolutely certain that we are going to win on climate policy. The question is whether we win soon enough to avoid the worst consequences.

BRADY: Scientists say the timeline is short. Inglis says the country is more likely to succeed if both sides of the aisle are focused on climate change. Jeff Brady, NPR News.


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