Rainey Center Founder and CEO, Sarah E. Hunt joined a bi-partisan POLITICO panel to answer the question: Where are the opportunities for synergy and dialogue between the parties and how do we move forward together to tackle our changing climate?
Held earlier this month, the panel titled How the Environmental Crisis is Shaping 2020 explored the ways in which young people from across the political spectrum are influencing environmental issues. Ms. Hunt was joined on the stage by National Policy Director and Senior Advisor for Bernie Sanders 2020, Josh Orton; Co-founder and Political Director of the Sunrise Movement, Evan Weber; and the Director of Science and Society Research for the Pew Research Center, Dr. Cary Funk.
As the 2020 election looms nearer and a 16-year-old climate activist catches the attention of the world, the topics of environmental policy and the role young people will have in determining the future of our planet, are increasing in market share for candidates on both sides of the aisle. However, the focus the presidential hopefuls take in their approach to tackling the challenges of climate change remain decidedly, though not surprisingly, different.
A CNN poll released earlier this year found 82% of Democrat or Democrat-leaning independents identified climate change as the primary factor in choosing a presidential candidate. Only 14% of Republicans felt the same. There are indications those attitudes may be shifting as the younger generation of GOP voters begin to advocate for the acceleration of government response to the changing climate and focuses on the expansion of development in the clean energy technology space.
The discussion, moderated by POLITICO Energy Reporter, Gavin Bade, explored these conversations and ranged from the candidates’ prioritization of environmental issues, to the level of influence young voters are wielding on both sides of the political spectrum. How much sway do young voters have to affect the attitudes of candidates towards climate and energy policy? A survey conducted by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions and the American Conservation Coalition suggests that influence may be growing as 67% of Republican voters ages 18 to 34 think their party needs to do more to address the issue of climate change.
Intra-party differences on climate policies and the exploration of identifying policy areas that offer opportunities for bipartisan collaboration were also panel topics of note. Ms. Hunt expressed a frustration with the continued politicization of climate change issues and offered the perspective that environmental policy should ultimately be a conversation rooted in common values that transcend party lines.
“It’s about love,” she explained to the 100 in-person attendees at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “It’s about looking at neighbors and saying, “I don’t want you to be one of the two million people dying prematurely from air pollution. I don’t want our kids to get asthma. I don’t want homes burning in wildfires. I want a bright future for all of us.”
The panel, broadcasted live to a global audience, heralded a call to action and magnified a drumbeat spurring Republicans to spearhead initiatives aimed at stimulating the innovation efforts of American energy companies and advancing the exportation of American clean energy technology to the world.
As the panel closed, Ms. Hunt emphasized a point she made in a recent op-ed to the Morning Consult, “They now have the opportunity to not just join but lead the climate conversation because the strongest weapon against global warming is also one of the most durable planks of conservatism: free enterprise fosters innovation.”