Conventional wisdom tells us that youth is a divine treasure, and what this election year is teaching us is that tens of thousands of young voters are investing this treasure in a promising future.
They are getting involved because what is at stake in the November election is not only their future but also the future of the planet. The responsibility to finally take effective measures to combat humanity’s biggest challenge in modern history —global warming— will fall on the hands of the next president of the United States.
“Global warming is a pest that will create an unsafe environment for future generations,” warns Daniela Valdes, a high school student from Pittsburgh, PA. “But it is also an opportunity for humanity and nature to unite.”
This union has been evident in the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. In those races, the increase of young voters —ages 18 though 29— has surpassed all expectations. In Iowa, the number of young voters who participated in the Democratic caucuses tripled that of the 2004 primaries. In fact, the big winner of that race, Sen. Barack Obama, owes his victory to the fact that 57% of Democratic young voters voted for him.
And these voters’ priorities are not only the Iraq war or the deterioration of the economy, but the environment as well.
“I would like the new president to take global warming as the number one priority,” says Carlos Rymer, a Dominican college student majoring in sustainable development at Cornell University. “Addressing the issue will address the economy, health, and the war.”
But there exists another war, a much more subtle one, declared on the acceptance of the global scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for global warming. And its most audacious combatant is the Bush administration.
According to a study by Yale and Columbia universities about how well 149 countries around the world are taking care of the environment, the United States came in 39th place. Specifically when it comes to local levels of smog, the United States is at the bottom of the table.
Because of this and many other reasons, we feel that it is sad, and even pathetic, that George W. Bush, the president of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, has just traveled to the Middle East, hat in hand, to beg the oil producing nations to lower crude oil prices. This is the same president who in 2001 eliminated an agreement between the Clinton administration and the Detroit automakers to start building cars and light trucks that yield at least 80 miles per gallon. Had that 1998 agreement been left alone, in a couple of years, the United States would not have needed to import one single drop of oil from that explosive region.
The country’s most influential TV journalists also contribute to this shameless behavior. The League of Conservation Voters conducted a study of the five most watched public affairs shows in the country, those of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC. It found that in 2007, the moderators of those shows asked 2,679 questions to the presidential candidates. And how many of those questions mentioned global warming? Three (3).
“To me, it screams apocalyptic,” says Valdes, co-founder and co-president of Students for a Greener Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to making that city’s buildings more efficient and less polluting. “Our nation’s leaders are not listening to the voice of science and of their people.”
“If the media were to put global warming side-by-side or above issues like Iraq, maybe people would pay more attention,” says Rymer, an activist who next year will be entering Columbia University to pursue his master’s degree in environmental science and policy. “ If government officials were to talk about it more often, it would also be an issue getting more attention from the public, but they aren't doing that.”
But Rymer is an optimist and believes public opinion is changing. Facts support him. In South Carolina, where the Republican primary has recently been held, 81 percent of conservative voters demand action from the government to reduce global warming emissions.
“Mother Nature is getting old and needs to be cared for,” Valdes says. “Who better than her children?”