Generation Green

Once derided as tree huggers, eco-friendly youth are now the nation's most powerful (and feared) voting bloc. So why isn't the GOP listening?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 11, 2009


Cap and trade explained: The cool basics of the hottest topic in climate change. By Lissa Harris.

They said what? Republican lawmakers sound off on global warming. By David S. Bernstein.

Republicans have a lot to say about the immorality of saddling the next generation with our national debt. But when it comes to leaving them a wrecked, depleted, and rapidly warming planet, they are taking the exact opposite line.

That's especially odd when you consider how important that next generation is to the faltering GOP — and how broadly united those voters, known as Millennials, are in their concern over global warming and other energy and environment issues.

GOP leaders claim to be courting these young adults, but that apparently extends only to their use of Twitter and promises of a "hip-hop" party makeover. Meanwhile, they seem intent on not just opposing but wildly denouncing and denigrating this generation's most unifying issue.

Even the most senior Republican leaders, and the top GOP lawmakers on energy and environment committees, keep shooting themselves in the foot by spewing antiquated, anti-science nonsense.

If they continue this type of Neanderthal posturing, the GOP is going to lose something a lot more valuable than its old moderates, like Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, who last week switched parties to become a Democrat.

Those who study Millennial politics say that the Republican Party is on the verge of completely alienating the coming generation — just as previous controversial platforms it has endorsed ensured that the party kissed off such huge demographic swaths as African-Americans, single women, and Hispanics, who at present vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

While the issue of climate change, and its particular effect on future generations, has long been on the back burner in Washington, it appears to be heading for the headlines. President Barack Obama has said that he wants to pass a comprehensive environment and energy law this year. That bill, the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" (ACES), co-authored by Democrats — Massachusetts congressman Edward Markey and California congressman Henry Waxman — is now being finalized, following hearings that coincided with Earth Day two weeks ago. It attempts to reduce carbon emissions, promote the use of renewable-energy sources, invest in "smart grid" infrastructure, and create green-industry jobs.

"There is no question in my mind that climate change, and the effort to address these issues, could catalyze a generation," says Lawrence Rasky, chairman of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications in Boston and former advisor to Markey.

But could it also bring Democratic Party dominance? For good or ill, that's what's coming to Capitol Hill if the early tendency of Millennials — who voted more than two-to-one for Obama — solidifies into long-term political allegiance.

The math is not complicated. At 100 million strong, Millennials — those born between roughly 1980 and 2000 — are the single largest generation of Americans, ever; and, according to a new report authored by Ruy Teixeira, analyst with the left-leaning Center for American Progress, another 4.5 million of them reach voting age every year. By 2016, they will already comprise a third of the total vote.

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