When former Vice-President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” debuted in 2006, concerns about climate change were distinctively Leftist in nature. Even among Democrats, Pew Research found then, that “dealing with global warming remains a relatively low priority for the American public.”
Fifteen years later, that’s hard to fathom. Two-thirds of Americans say the government is not doing enough to combat climate change—and these days, that includes conservative Christians and Republicans, especially those in Gen Z. This is great news for anyone who cares about the environment and hopes for realistic, bipartisan policies with a shot at passing.
But there’s a reason it took so long for vocal bipartisanship to emerge, and Gore’s film is part of it. Though “An Inconvenient Truth” was very popular, we know today that several key claims within it were wrong. For example, it predicted much of Florida sinking underwater and insisted that there would be no more snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro within a decade. These things did not come to fruition and much of that sensationalist rhetoric—along with its very partisan source—deterred the wider public from embracing possible solutions.
Gen Z Christians Reflect the Future
With the oldest members of Gen Z born in 1997, the name Al Gore hardly rings a bell and the documentary is a relic of the past. The demographics of who cares about climate change have shifted dramatically since then. Sixty-nine percent of Gen Zers across the political spectrum believe climate change policy should be a “top priority”—and a new survey out from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship found these numbers consistent with highly religious Christian students as well.
In the exclusive survey released Tuesday, covering 127 campuses, Intervarsity reported that students—95% of whom say church involvement is important to them—ranked climate change as the second most important issue facing the country today. The survey, conducted in an effort to assess student viewpoints amid the COVID-19 pandemic, also touched on issues like mental and emotional health, spiritual needs and community life.
Given the collective national stress in the past year, students have had ample chance to reflect on what’s most important to them for the future. It’s no surprise that climate change made the list. Environmental care has consistently ranked higher as a priority over the past few years. And while politics have historically played a role in shaping individual beliefs about climate change, the younger generation is changing that trend.
In some cases, young Christians are actually leading the way. Considering 85% of Christians identify as Republican (or conservative), this is significant. Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) is one example. YECA is devoted to finding solutions to climate change “as part of our Christian discipleship and witness.”
“The environment is one of the most powerful tools, if not the most powerful tool of connecting with the creator,” said Sarah Herring, a 23-year-old YECA field organizer, in Rolling Stone. “That’s why I’m so passionate about my activism.”
She’s not alone, as many faith-based environmental groups have surfaced in recent years. They may not all agree on policy, but they are drawing in new demographics and painting fresh ways to think about climate—usually disconnected from an exclusively, political messaging game.
When it comes to generating action, young Christians are a great place to start. As I wrote in the New York Times, the faith-based world is an overlooked source of activism for climate policy. Evangelicals, as you might know, are evangelists for what they believe in. That these young Christians are focused on climate change shouldn’t be ignored. Rather, it should be possessed and amplified. It’s also encouraging to see ministry leaders helping cultivate their passion on the topic.
“It’s crucial for us to help students navigate both these issues and how to live out their faith from a Biblical perspective in real time on college campuses,” said Greg Jao, Chief Communications Officer at InterVarsity.
Realistic Climate Change Conversations
Students often lack mentors and solid guidance today, relying on Instagram influencers and YouTube videos to guide them. Embodied, compassionate conversations with faith leaders on important issues like climate may aid in offering more measured perspectives—something we certainly need more of.
And while there are still outrageous claims being made by popular politicians about the coming effects of climate change (“the world is going to end in 12 years!”), plenty of level-headed leaders are offering rational, people-first solutions that allow more of the public to get on board.
As Rep. John Curtis (UT) said at the recent launch of the Conservative Climate Caucus, “We don’t need to kill the U.S. economy to reach our climate goals.”
Catch a peek of the recent press conference here:
In the past, conservative ideas about climate change policy have been overshadowed by flashy, radical proposals like the Green New Deal. As more conservative voices and sensible, economically responsible ideas emerge, those with deep concerns about the economy, regulations and taxes have an opportunity to sign on to climate change solutions too.
The American people can spot hyperbole from a mile away. When Al Gore spouted it in 2006, they knew. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sermonizes about the end of the world in 2030, they know. It’s only when we get honest and look at the data showcasing realistic, long-term solutions that people from across the spectrum sign on. Data like C3 Solutions’ recent policy paper demonstrating how Capitalism and free markets result in a cleaner environment, for example.
Extremist Solutions Do Not Appeal
Though the older generation is slower to embrace climate change policies, they are getting there. The inconvenient truth today is only for the Left, who must release their dream of extremist policies that would be, as columnist David Brooks put it, “the greatest centralization of power, in the hands of the Washington elite, in our history.” That’s not appealing to the American people and it’s not going to stand.
C3 Solutions Vice-President of Public Policy Nick Loris said policies like the Green New Deal would have “huge ripple effects throughout the economy,” costing “potentially millions of jobs lost” and “tens of thousands of dollars lost in household income”—among many other devastating economic consequences.
Now that young conservatives, Christians, Republicans and formerly climate apathetic groups are taking a bold stand and offering innovative solutions, it’s important for the Parties and partisans to take the carrot and progress in good faith.