Last week, Market Research Foundation shared our findings on Generation Z’s populist identity and bipartisan support for America First approaches to immigration, foreign policy, and foreign aid. However, there is one issue that seems almost universally important to young Americans where the left holds the theoretical moral advantage: environmental policy.
It is indisputable that young people fervently prioritize the environment – eighty-percent of Gen Z favors environmental policies. By party, 91% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and 55% of Republicans support broad legislation to protect the environment as shown below.
The Republican Party has earned a reputation of opposing environmental policies in favor of economic growth, a stance that has merit given the overreaching nature of most proposals, but can appear short-sighted to young Americans. To Gen Zers in their teens and early twenties ensuring the United States adopts long-lasting sustainable energy solutions over the next 60 to 70 years is an understandable priority.
The conventional line from the left is that the GOP will be forced to ‘adapt’ and adopt progressive views on climate change in order to remain relevant with rigidly environmentalist young people.
Without a consistent explanation from conservatives beyond the broad concern for the economy, it’s not surprising young people often find themselves siding with the left on environmental issues.
Young conservatives, particularly Evangelicals, are increasingly insistent on prioritizing the environment. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, a national spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action recently pointed out that many young conservatives are avoiding the Republican label because they believe the GOP has an inadequate response to environmental issues.
Unfortunately, much of the climate change legislation pushed by the left is less about protecting the environment, and more about punishing the United States and enforcing global wealth redistribution.
The Paris Climate Accord President Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2017 is an egregious example of anti-American redistributionist policies disguised as international cooperation. In his statement on withdrawal, President Trump stated, “the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.”
He was right. The agreement, entered into by the Obama-Biden administration in 2015, allowed China to continue increasing emissions for over a decade even as the U.S. would be forced to make drastic reductions. Worse, India’s participation was contingent on receiving billions in foreign aid from Western nations. What it amounted to was a redistributionist’s dream, crippling Western nations and funneling billions to so-called ‘developing’ nations under the guise of saving the planet.
Then there is Joe Biden’s “plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice” a punishing array of policies borrowed from the Green New Deal that unsurprisingly weave social justice into environmental policy. For example, the Green New Deal just happens to include a mandatory “living wage”, universal healthcare, and government-provided affordable housing, all apparently necessary aspects of combating climate change.
The same far-left progressives constantly apologizing for the United States and pushing through trade deals and immigration policies that put America last are the loudest voices screeching for environmental change. And that is worrisome. Environmental policy is not the issue. It is the globalist, anti-American, wealth redistributionist solutions the far-left comes to the table with.
This distinction is extremely important when conducting research into the opinions of younger Americans, many of whom are still forming their opinions about public policy.
What must be communicated better by those on the right, is empathy for the concern young people have for the environment. Then, conservatives must provide a concrete explanation of how most globalist climate agreements and domestic green initiatives undermine American prosperity and actually do very little to improve the quality of the environment we live in.
Market Research Foundation’s research shows Gen Z leans populist, with 85% of Republicans, 74% of Independents, and 65% of Democrats supporting an overtly America First policy agenda.
On the issue of foreign aid, 82% of Republicans, 73% of Independents, and 66% of Democrats would like to see a reduction in foreign spending in favor of spending on U.S. based programs.
On foreign conflict, Generation Zers appear much more supportive of non-interventionalist policies, including young Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of Generation Z Republicans, an equal share of Generation Z Democrats (68%) and 71% of Generation Z Independents think the U.S. should stay out of international conflicts as much as possible.
These stances are all indicative of a self-interested form of ‘libertarian populism’, hardly the type of group to embrace a global wealth redistribution agenda if they knew the details.
Instead of staying mostly quiet on environmental issues, the GOP needs to bring policy ideas to the table and tout its own solutions, especially when messaging to younger Americans.
During his first four years, President Trump committed $38 billion to clean water infrastructure for Americans, signed the Great American Outdoors Act, replaced NAFTA with the even-stronger USMCA, secured 1.3 million additional acres of protected wilderness, and signed the Save Our Seas Act to protect American shores from foreign litter. If the United States is to consider working with other nations toward a cleaner environment, we must do so without forcing Americans to bear the bulk of the costs. These are the sorts of environmental solutions that improve quality of life for all Americans, unlike the unjust international agreements and costly Green New Deal.
If conservatives can make the case for an America First approach to environmental policy that strikes the right balance between economic needs and the environment, the GOP has a much better opportunity to build a lasting relationship with young Americans.