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Ever since the White House website’s page on climate change suddenly vanished, it has been clear that as president, Donald Trump will treat the environment like a used car, ready to be stripped for parts. The president's recent flood of executive orders — including clearing the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, an indefinite EPA media blackout, and the nomination of climate science denialist Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator -- confirms what many of us have long understood: Trump and his administration will plunder the natural world and let future generations deal with the consequences.
In revealing his hand, Trump has effectively declared war on millennials, who will live to experience the most cataclysmic damages of climate change. It is a war that Trump will lose.
The president's recent flood of executive orders ... confirms what many of us have long understood: Trump and his administration will plunder the natural world and let future generations deal with the consequences.
I come to this conversation having spent the last three years asking millennial-aged adults what they care about. I began this project because I, too, am a millennial, and I wanted to find out why so many of my peers didn't vote in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Put another way, I wanted to know what issue millennials might rally around in upcoming elections. So I traveled across the United States on buses, trains and on foot, and I talked with more than 300 people my age.
When I began the interviews, I expected student loan debt — an immediate and tangible crisis felt by millions of young people — to emerge as the dominant issue that kept millennials up at night. What I heard instead, in both blue and red states, was a more sobering and chilling consensus: climate change. Roughly 80 percent of the millennials I spoke with told me that how climate change will manifest itself, and whether it will deprive them and their children of a habitable world, is the most pressing issue of our time.
It’s not difficult to understand why climate change has emerged as the closest thing to a universal millennial nightmare. If we consider the academic definition of "millennial" as the generation comprised of those born between 1982 and 2004, then can we assume most millennials are old enough to remember Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth," which made climate change a part of the national discourse. Since then, the issue has been everywhere: in the news, in pop culture, and of course, in Washington, D.C. Just as baby boomers were shaped by the Cold War, so millennials have been shaped by climate change and its attendant concerns.
So why hasn't there been a millennial-driven climate movement? The answer, paradoxically, may be Barack Obama, the most pro-environment U.S. president in decades. For the past eight years, millennials with climate anxiety enjoyed the relative comfort of a governing administration that demonstrated interest in sensible climate legislation. President Obama’s victories, including the Paris Climate Agreement and his Climate Action Plan, might not have been as bold as environmental advocacy groups would have wished. But it was near impossible to look at Obama’s achievements and not feel that America was inching towards a future in which outspoken climate advocates like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein could play an authorial role in creating environmental policy.
Trump’s shock victory didn’t just delay this future. The first several days of Trump’s rule have illuminated a plan to erase the Obama presidency, including the climate victories. The security blanket that millennials have been wrapped in has been ripped away. But those who jeer at the existential plight of young adults forget what eventually happens when people are pushed into a corner: They fight back.
The backlash against [Trump's] environmental assault will come from the young. It will be vicious. And it will happen soon.
Millennials are about to become Trump’s worst nightmare, and not just because Trump has given young adults further reason to loathe his administration. This past year, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest living generation in America. Over the next two years, millions of millennials will become eligible to vote. Within a decade, today’s young adults will have more voting power than any other demographic in America.
Trump has finally picked a fight that he cannot win. The backlash against his environmental assault will come from the young. It will be vicious. And it will happen soon.