As climate change poses a greater and greater threat to more people, it’s also motivating more people to vote – and sometimes for the very first time.
“It’s really an incredible shift, and it’s because people around the country – especially young people – are seeing the impacts of climate change happening in our lives every day, and are deeply scared about what the future will look like,” Stephen O’Hanlon, a member of the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement, told The Verge.
Many of those young people are “Gen Z” teens. They were born after 9/11, have already experienced two recessions, and are just reaching voting age this year, the PBS News Hour reports.
Together with millennials, this younger segment of the U.S. population is expected to make up 37 % of 2020’s eligible voters, nearly as many as eligible baby boomers and silent generation voters combined (38 percent).
With that cohort comes clout. “Young people have enormous power in our election” this year, Carolyn DeWitt, president and executive producer of Rock the Vote, told News Hour.
Said 21 year-old Jessica Diaz of Houston, TX, “I am voting with the climate crisis as my top issue because we can no longer afford a president and leaders who don’t believe that all people, regardless of their identities, deserve clean air, clean water, good jobs, healthy food, and a livable future.”
The future is very much on the mind of Devin Mullins, 19 and from Boone, NC, as well. “I’ll be thinking about the climate crisis when I vote in November because I have no other choice,” he declares. “Climate change is the most existential threat to a healthy and prosperous future for myself, my peers, and the family I’d someday like to have. There are leaders in or running for office who are committed to that future, but they need our votes and our voices to be successful. Our future is on the ballot.”
Of course, not all first-time voters are young voters.
Cynthia (Cindy) Duncan is in her mid-forties and lives in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas. She has never voted before because she was “always under the assumption that my vote didn’t matter.”
“The shenanigans going on have gotten out of hand. When my daughter Hailey (who works for Moms Clean Air Force) told me about how close the votes were in 2016 election, I thought: OK, maybe my one vote could make a difference.”
Hailey showed her mom how to download a voter registration form, complete it, and mail it in. “It’s much easier than you would think,” says Cindy. She’s since checked with her state board of elections, and found she’s registered to vote for the first time in her life.
“We’ve taken 20 steps back. So voting…is one small thing we can do to make everything better, not only in the U.S. but in the entire world,” Cindy notes.
For the record, Cindy plans to vote early – but in person. Why?
“It’s my first time!” she told me over the phone.
Despite what might turn out to be long lines and wait times, she wants to savor every moment of her newfound status as a voter.