Certain issues reach a political tipping point when timing, events or actions captures the public’s attention. One of the reasons that action on climate has skyrocketed to the top of the Democrats’ priority list is the actions of the world’s youth. In March, over one million students held climate strikes in over 123 countries calling for urgent climate action.
In April, another climate activist group, the Extinction Rebellion, nearly brought London to a standstill with nearly ten days of protests. Student groups are active in promoting the New Green Deal in cities across the country. The Sunrise Movement, a group organizing around the New Green Deal, turned out several hundred climate activists at an event at Drake University last month.
The U.S. Youth Climate Strike is organizing student climate action in this country. In Iowa, the local Iowa Youth Climate Strike organized a March 15 strike and repeated with another strike this past Friday, May 3rd, at the Iowa State Capitol. In last week’s strike, more than 50 students from several metro Des Moines middle and high schools skipped classes to speak out about their concerns on the rapidly changing Iowa climate. The organizer was Lydia Pesek, an Ankeny middle school student who organized the March strike as well.
About a dozen Des Moines area students shared their individual commitments to lower their carbon footprint. They described avoiding single-use straws, swearing off disposable plastic and reducing their energy use. Several referenced the science underlying the causes of climate change and agreed that urgent action is necessary. They conducted an eleven-minute die-in to signify the eleven-year warning issued by the United Nations (UN). Last year, the U.N. issued a warning that emissions must be reduced within 11 years in order to avoid irreversible climate damage.
It appears that Democrats’ concern about the importance of climate change has increased in tandem with the students’ concerns.
In new polling released by CNN last week, climate change action was listed as the number one issue of registered voters who identified as Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents. The poll shows 82% of these voters call climate action a “top priority” for presidential candidates for 2020. Heath care ranked as the number two issue for Democrats at 75% and gun control was at 65%. Impeachment of President Trump polled far below the top three at just 43%.
House Democrats passed the first climate legislation last week, the Climate Action Now Act, in nearly ten years. It is aimed at preventing Trump from spending money to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords in 2020.
With growing student action, the House Democrats legislation and nearly every presidential candidate presenting a climate plan, it certainly appears that public opinion has reached a tipping point.
In a notable reversal, several Republicans are beginning to acknowledge the reality of the changing climate. Whit Ayers, a Republican political consultant, is warning Republican leaders that denying climate change will likely alienate millennials as well as centrist voters. “Denying the basic existence of climate change is no longer a credible (GOP) position,” said Ayers.
Just as high school students raised the public awareness about gun violence following the Parkland shootings, students are ramping up the publics’ demand to address climate change.
by Rick Smith