Young Republicans Not buying GOP Zombie Climate Denial
April 14, 2017
Davidson College in North Carolina has fewer than 2,000 students – small enough that the presidents of the College Republican and College Democrats clubs count each other as friends.
They disagree on some political issues, but an unusual one unites them: they both believe climate change is a serious problem.
“Climate change is really real and really alarming to me personally,” said Grace Woodward, the College Republicans’ president. University students – and Republicans in particular – “need to do a better job of talking about climate change”, she said.
Woodward is well aware that her views differ from those of many older Republican leaders. But “we shouldn’t just be blindly loyal to a party”, she said. “In 20 years maybe we’ll hold those positions and we can make changes to the party.”
In the U.S. Congress and in U.S. party politics, beliefs about climate change often match party membership: Democrats believe it is a largely man-made problem and something that needs urgent action, while a share of Republicans – including President Donald Trump – have dismissed it as anything from a natural phenomenon to a hoax
But a younger generation of Republicans – those on college campuses today – increasingly say they believe climate change is a human-caused problem, and that Americans have a responsibility to act on it and protect the environment, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation review of college Republican clubs across the United States.
That shift appears to be the result of a range of differences, not least that most of the university students will be alive for many decades after current Republican leaders are gone.
That period is expected to be a time of worsening climate change impacts, from stronger droughts to sea level rise, unless there is urgent action to address the problem.
The climate generation gap may herald the start of a party-wide shift among Republicans, with scepticism about the problem dissolving as global warming morphs into a generation-wide concern, experts, politicians and campus leaders said.
“I think that there will be a big change in the (Republican) Party,” said Kent Haeffner, president of the Harvard University Republican Club, whose members are firm believers in man-made climate change.
“Demographically, the ‘Trump coalition’ will not last. I think that the folks that are our age are going to have to reshape the party and take it in a different direction,” he said.
Of 21 college Republican clubs surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, about half said their members believe climate change is predominantly human-caused. Another quarter said their members held a mix of opinions on the issue, while three said climate change simply doesn’t come up often as an issue.
The University of Pennsylvania’s College Republicans called it “ludicrous” to suggest the climate is not changing or that humans are not driving that change, according to a statement from the group’s director of communications.
A poll carried out by the Cornell University College Republicans club found that 74 percent of its members see climate change as an important issue for the United States to address.
On the Ohio State University campus, similarly, “you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thought that climate change is not occurring at all”, said Nick Frankowski, chairman of the university’s College Republicans.
“The evidence is fairly overwhelming that climate change is a thing,” he said. “The biggest debate is, of course, what to do about it.”