MIAMI– Rising sea levels, flooding and stronger hurricanes are climate change threats that are more than political talking points for 22-year old Gabby Chihiro.
“Climate change is hurting my community and the people I care about,” the Miami resident says. “The thought of Miami being underwater terrifies me. I want to know what’s going to be done in the next couple years to stop the worst effects.”
More than any other generation, millennials see climate change as an important issue that will affect them directly and that did not get enough attention in the presidential campaigns. An energy poll conducted by the University of Texas at Austin released on Oct. 27 found that 63 percent of millennials ages 35 and younger said energy issues will influence their presidential vote compared with 34 percent of voters ages 65 or older.
In the final days of their campaigns, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are making their final push in Florida, where polling shows them in a virtual tie. Millennials in the state could tip the scales for Clinton if she could mobilize them to turn out in large numbers to vote for her. A Harvard University Institute of Politics nationwide poll shows the Democratic nominee leading with voters ages 18 to 29 over the Republican nominee, 49 to 21 percent.
However, many millennials are frustrated with both the lack of discussion of climate change and the ways it is talked about when it is addressed. Some young voters cite this as signs that the candidates’ interests lie most with older voters.
“I think in one way, [Clinton] is trying to be centrist and not totally alienate people who are working for older energy industries like coal as a source of economic revenue,” Anna Bennett, a 26-year-old Miami resident, said.
Hillary Clinton has said she wants to regulate fossil fuels and shift toward clean and renewable energy production. Her official campaign website outlines her plan to defend President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, tighten fuel-efficiency standards, and cut subsidies on oil and gas companies.
Donald Trump has suggested he views climate change as a hoax “created by and for the Chinese” in a 2012 tweet, said he would cancel the Paris climate agreement, and proposed stopping U.S. payments to the United Nations climate change fund.
Chris Castro, 27, director of sustainability for Orlando, said neither candidate is “acting as boldly as they need to if they want to stop catastrophic climate change.” But the stark difference between the candidates’ stances on climate change has made Castro aware of the high stakes of this election season.
“It’s night and day between what Trump and Clinton want to move forward…” said Castro, “I hope [Clinton] will step up and be more bold, but it’s 100 times better than the alternative who denies the science of climate change.”
Clinton appeared on Oct. 11 in Miami with leading climate activist and former vice president Al Gore to speak about her plans for dealing with climate issues and suggest how they could’ve related to the Zika outbreak in Miami and Hurricane Matthew, which had just hit the state days before.
Castro said missing from Clinton’s climate and energy plans were carbon taxes and a stance against fracking.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has pushed for more action to reduce climate change, has been stumping for Clinton in an effort that could energize more millennials around Clinton.
Nosa James, 18, a student at the University of Miami who ranks climate change as one of the most important election issues, said the way Sanders talked about climate change was a main driver for why he supported him in the primaries.
“To me, Hillary’s focusing on [climate change] now to get votes,” said James, “I don’t know how much value I put on her word, but at least she’s saying something about climate change and it’s on her platform. I think she’ll do something about it. I don’t know if she’ll do enough.”
Tampa resident James Few, 23, who works for Floridians for Solar Change, will be voting for Clinton with Sanders’ words guiding him.
“Like Bernie said: Don’t just vote her in, but see what she does once you get her in there and make sure she follow through on climate change…” said Few, “She may not be the savior we need, but we have a better chance with her.”