The window for hope is closing rapidly for the planet. But young activists are demonstrating their power at the ballot box to push for a different future
- Geoff Dembicki is the author of Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change
If progressives can’t take back control of the White House and Congress from climate change deniers in the next three years, it’s conceivable that humankind could be screwed. But evidence is mounting that a new political force is up to the task. It has millions of potential supporters across the US, the UK and Canada. It’s openly critical of capitalism. And it’s led by millennials such as Moumita Ahmed.
The 25-year-old activist is intimately aware of what’s at stake. She grew up in Queens, New York, and rose to prominence during the 2016 Democratic primaries as co-founder of a group now known as Millennials for Revolution.
She has since rallied thousands of people her age against Donald Trump’s travel ban and the Republican healthcare bill. Yet climate change is never far from Ahmed’s mind. Rising oceans directly threaten her family members back in Bangladesh. “It makes me so angry and upset,” Ahmed said. “But at the end of the day, I still believe there is hope.”
The window for hope is closing rapidly. Over 60 climate experts warned this June that we only have until 2020 to stop the worst damages of global warming. “While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence,” argued Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a leading climate researcher.
Trump is inflicting wound after wound. His exit from the Paris climate treaty is a blow to the global fight against climate change. Yet it’s only one of many concessions Trump’s made to the fossil fuel industry, which spent $36 million on lobbying from January to March alone, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
“I have been moving at record pace…to eliminate the barriers to domestic energy production,” Trump said recently. Oil and gas companies are delighted. “Not in our wildest dreams, never did we expect to get everything,” boasted an industry leader.
And Republicans in the House, the majority of whom deny the existence of climate change, are now rushing through legislation that “could provide bulletproof armor during future challenges to Trump’s agenda,” reported InsideClimateNews.
Voters have just two chances to reverse course before the three-year window closes: the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. But turning the US into a climate hero isn’t as simple as rejecting the Republican party.
Democratic elites must be convinced that bold climate action is possible. And the party needs “to gain enough power to pass their shit,” said Vox columnist David Roberts, an expert on climate politics. In today’s political environment, “that second step just seems impossible.”
Yet millennials such as Ahmed have no choice but to fight. And a series of recent elections prove her generation is becoming strong enough to win. The first evidence came in 2015, when an 18% surge of millennial voters helped oust Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a close ally of oil and gas.
Harvard International Review said it’s “exciting … in a global context.” Current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while still a booster of oil, is bringing in a national price on carbon, which is “big, positive news” to green groups like the Pembina Institute.
Next came the 2016 Democratic primaries. Voters under the age of 30 cast two million votes for “socialist” Bernie Sanders while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined got 1.6 million. Sanders leveraged this support to get far-left policies in the Democratic platform, including a climate test for oil pipelines and tougher limits on fracking. Anti-fracking activist Josh Fox declared it a “monumental victory.”
‘Millennial voters helped oust Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a close ally of oil and gas.’ Photograph: Erik M/Pacific/Barcroft Images
Yet Ahmed believes the most enduring legacy of Sanders’ campaign was to show that millions of millennials support political leaders who fight the economic status quo. “For us to deal with [climate change] we have to address capitalism,” Ahmed argued.
Across the Atlantic, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was listening. He borrowed campaign ideas from Sanders in the UK’s 2017 election, vowing to fix an economy “rigged for the rich” and take bold action on issues like global warming. The result was a flood of 18 to 24-year-old voters – with turnout as high as 72 percent – and huge election gains for Labour. “Britain’s younger generation flexed their political muscles to real effect for the first time,” the Guardian reported. To Ahmed it proves a powerful global movement of young people is emerging: “We are the future.”
Others aren’t so sure. Despite all the enthusiasm for Sanders in 2016, actual voter turnout among Millennials in the US election was a dismal 50%. “Youthful enthusiasm for the outsider is an extremely fickle political horse,” Roberts argued.
To win the Senate in the 2018 midterms, Democrats need to defend 25 seats and pick up an additional three. “The Senate map is horrifically bad for the party,” Vox noted, while gerrymandering tilts the House “in favor of Republicans.” Democrats have also lost four special elections for Congress since Trump came to power.
But far-left politicians are winning local elections across the country. They include Chokwe Lumumba, the new 34-year-old mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, who vowed to build “the most radical city on the planet”; and a Black Lives Matter advocate as Philadelphia’s next District Attorney.
This trend “has major implications” for US progressive politics, according to the outlet McClatchy DC. Meanwhile, thousands of young people are joining activist groups such as Our Revolution, Indivisible and Democratic Socialists of America. “We’re still seeing a ton of action and organizing coming out of millennials,” Ahmed explained. “It’s going to have a ripple effect.”
If momentum persists, it’s plausible that millennials who expelled an oil and gas leader in Canada, turned a socialist into a serious challenger for US President and invigorated the UK’s far-left could block Trump’s climate agenda as early as 2018. With time quickly ticking down, it would mean a less screwed future for us all.