Wanna Save the Planet? Vote!

The topic of climate change remains a source of contention among United States politicians. With the recent proposal of the Green New Deal — a congressional resolution aimed to promote federal intervention on issues like climate change — the government’s role in promoting environmental action has been the subject of debate across the nation.

But should climate change be such a controversial topic?

According to most young voters, it should not be. Across party lines, Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely to see a connection between human activity and climate change than older generations. Additionally, 67 percent of young people believe that protecting the environment should be a top priority for the government.

AGF President David Goodman with Ramapough Lenape Chief Dwain Perry and Ramapo College Vote Everywhere Alum Antonio Navazio at the “Clean Energy for a Better Future” event in 2018

As the 2020 election gears up, it is therefore vital that young Americans pay close attention to the stances candidates take on environmental issues. Climate change is an issue that, if unaddressed, will have catastrophic repercussions on the country and the world. In the past year, we have seen how California’s wildfires and rising sea levels can devastate communities, and if we continue to deny the impact of climate change, more citizens will suffer.

It seems that with every election, voters show a desire to vote for climate change, but when it comes time to cast their ballots, this is not the case. Though more and more Americans are supporting action on climate change, 2018 exit polls revealed that Americans did not view climate change as a priority issue. Additionally, of 28 voting issues, registered voters ranked climate change 15th in on what they found most important.

It is tempting to view environmental issues as an abstract and far off concept, but climate change has already impeded on many people’s well-being. And though the issue of climate change impacts everyone, it is those belonging to marginalized and poor communities who have suffered the most. Citizens of Flint, Michigan – a majority-black city where 41 percent of residents are living in poverty – are still grappling with the lead that poisoned their water five years ago. Puerto Ricans continue to try and salvage their communities after the horrific devastation of Hurricane Maria. Various Native American communities have dealt for years with environmental injustices; for example, Ford Motor Company intoxicated the groundwater and soil of Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe due to years of dumping paint sludge and other toxic materials on their land.

The issue of climate change is real and immediate. With 2020 on the horizon, we need to honestly come to terms with how dangerous environmental issues are, especially for marginalized communities, and prepare to tackle them.

Young people have the power to take control of the nation’s narrative on climate change. The recent World Wide Climate Strike on March 15 demonstrated the powerful influence that the younger generation can have, and their efforts portray a resurgence in civic action among these demographics. Students at high schools, colleges, and universities are also making waves in the conversation on climate change, organizing smaller movements to educate their communities and promote environmental action.

Young people have the power to take control of the nation’s narrative on climate change.

During my time in college, I have witnessed young people demonstrate a desire for activism and voice their fervent dissatisfaction with past generations’ ability to handle environmental issues. When I started attending Ramapo College, I was quickly made aware of the environmental injustices the Ramapough people in the community faced, and encouraged to partake in clean-up events with the school. Ramapo College students were also among those who participated in the international Youth Climate Strike last month, urging our lawmakers to start seriously tackling the environmental threats our generation is facing.

But even this isn’t enough. The 2020 election is slowly approaching, and the people we nominate will have the most power to introduce the crucial legislation needed to support lasting environmental change. The issue of climate change is not going away, and our votes need to reflect the fact that climate change is an immediate threat.

We also need to communicate to our politicians that we are taking climate change seriously and that they need to as well. Call your elected officials – senators, congressmen, mayors, city officials, etc. – and tell them that they need to take action when it comes to the environment. Even social media platforms can allow you to potentially have contact with politicians like presidential nominees, so do not shy away from using your accounts to advocate for climate change intervention.  In the 2016 presidential debates, the topic of climate change occupied a disappointing five minutes of focus. If we want to change the conversation this election cycle, we need to speak up and ensure our politicians address this key issue.

These next few years will be crucial in offsetting the decades of environmental abuse that has led to the harmful impacts of climate change. Young people especially are in the position to influence drastic environmental change if they take appropriate action. We need to make it our goal to become civically engaged voters, and actively pay attention to how our elected officials deal with these matters. Our votes and voices are powerful, and we need to use this power to fight for the environment.

About the Author

Erica Meline is the Communications and Development Intern at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. She is currently a student at Ramapo College, where she is perusing a degree in Communication Arts with a concentration in Global Communications and Media. Throughout her college career, Erica has served as the News Editor of the college’s newspaper. Previously, Erica was a Development Intern at Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region in Philadelphia.