Young conservatives believe in and are worried about climate change. It gives me hope | Opinion

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to my alma mater to speak to students hoping to enter public service, where one boldly asked me how I manage to stay positive with what seems like dysfunction in Washington, D.C. I shared that, while the news may suggest complete division on Capitol Hill, I get to witness civility, bipartisanship, an appreciation for nuance and the power of passionate 20- and 30-somethings each and every day. While these individuals may disagree on many things, they consistently find common ground on protecting our natural spaces for future generations and the need to address our changing climate.

Just a few years ago, I was finishing up my degree at Boise State University and working in Idaho’s environmental sector. At the time, climate and clean energy were terms that could not be openly discussed in a deeply red state, and the environment was a polarizing subject. This was perplexing as I could see the values of conservation and a deep love for the planet expressed by the proud lifelong Idahoans all around me. How was an issue that seemed so noncontroversial instead so intensely political and partisan?

The division over these issues was still apparent when I moved to our nation’s capital several years ago. The majority of my professional experience has revolved around supporting communities of all sizes and political leanings with the energy transition. I came to realize that rural and red communities are the backbone of our energy future and greatly benefit from investments in new infrastructure, yet have frequently been led to believe otherwise by the discussions over climate and energy at the national level.

Until a couple of decades ago, we weren’t so divided over environmental issues. In fact, politically engaged conservatives were more likely to believe scientists about planetary warming than progressives were in the 1990s before the media began portraying climate change as a partisan issue owned by one side. In 2008, then-Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich sat side-by-side in a national ad stating :“We do agree our country must take action to address climate change.” Several years later though, we saw an uptake in conservative leaders denouncing the existence of climate change.

This unwillingness from politicians to acknowledge climate change has been shown to have significantly impacted conservative Americans’ views on the issue. A 2017 study indicates that conservatives doubt global warming in large part because of rhetoric from “elites,” and additional evidence suggests that Americans would be less skeptical of it if more conservatives in Congress believed in it.

However, in the past few years alone we have seen a shift within conservative politics, where young Americans who consistently rank climate as a top issue feel isolated when members of their party fail to address it. Support for climate action is strong among younger conservative voters – with 81% of 18-44-year-old Republicans seeing climate change as a threat. In contrast, 2024 polling found that only 39% of young rural conservatives think their government leaders are willing to listen to them on environmental and energy issues. Generational differences over climate change appear in both parties, but especially among Republicans — young Americans across the political spectrum are tired of partisan politics preventing sound policymaking.

Ultimately, young people know that the planet is not a partisan topic and that the impacts of climate change will be felt by everyone regardless of their political affiliation. They also recognize that partisanship has failed to produce sound climate solutions over the past several decades and that they will be inheriting a wicked problem. They are no longer debating the existence of the issue, but instead are discussing the solutions to address it. As proof, take a look at the federal-level bipartisan efforts that have progressed in the past several years alone – like investments in outdoor recreation, public lands and a nexus of clean energy technologies.

Across the country, we see young people doing their part to be good stewards of the environment by organizing trash cleanups, planting trees, or simply talking about an issue that some elected officials opted to ignore for too long. As we move deeper into a year that may divide us politically on many things, the need for climate action cannot be one of them. Young people give me hope this Earth Day, and I hope they give you some too.

Morgan Brummund is the government affairs director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). She graduated from Boise State University’s Environmental Studies Program with Minors in both Climate Science and Sustainability.