This week’s Courier Herald column:
This week marks the 52nd celebration of Earth Day, a celebration first observed on April 22nd, 1970. How this day is viewed is likely determined by two highly correlated variables.
The distance between the first Earth Day and the birthdate of one considering the holiday would tend to show a likely favorable or derisive opinion of the holiday. Those old enough to remember the original observance are likely to equate it with long haired hippies, pot smoking, and draft dodging. Folks born well after the first one are not only more likely accept environmental causes as mainstream, but as core values that are essential to their belief system.
Not surprisingly, Earth Day celebrants are more likely to lean liberal and vote Democratic. Too many conservative leaders and opinion merchants still score points with the Republican base by mocking the holiday.
It’s not uncommon to see social media fill with posts about driving a few extra trips around the block after gassing up the SUV, or leaving all the lights on in the house as part of a proper conservative commemoration. Turning on extra electricity sucking appliances may help “own the libs”, but it’s also stupidly turned off a couple of generations of voters.
When this topic is broached with older voters – more likely to be Christian conservatives than their younger counterparts – they often dismiss the junior demographics’ value set as secular humanism. “It’s a religion to them” will often be said.
From a purely political perspective, this alone should force some self-realization as to why mocking the holiday is not only poor form, but inept strategy. It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to convince someone to come to your point of view by mocking their deeply held beliefs. It’s even more confounding if this is how you start conversations with someone you need to vote for you or your team.
Several years ago I wrote a series on the “five Georgias”, noting that the old political paradigm of “two Georgias” didn’t capture the nuances of the state’s changing political landscape. While the state’s urban core was solidly Democratic and rural North Georgia and rural South Georgia were solidly in Republican hands overall, I noted that the swing in the state’s power base would come from the Atlanta suburbs and coastal Georgia.
The Atlanta Suburbs – dominated by college educated, high earning young adults – have flipped their party representation swiftly and dramatically since that series was published. Environmentalism is but one issue that suburban voters care about that conservatives are too often AWOL in substantive discussions.
Coastal Georgia is not only adopting many of the characteristics of suburban Atlanta, but is also home to much of the state and the country’s most sensitive yet best protected wetlands and marsh lands. Residents who treasure these resources are a bit more sensitive than other Republican base voters when it appears those who pollute are given preference to the pollution they cause.
While these generalizations about demographic groups are not absolute (I know many older Christian ministers who would proudly put themselves in the environmental activist camp) the trends should scare any conservative with dreams of serving in a Republican majority in the future. The older, anti-environmentalist Republican base voters are literally dying off. The “young people” that believe all this environmental stuff are…starting to turn 50.
This doesn’t mean Republicans need to sign on to policy items such as the Green New Deal. It means that they should engage on environmental issues with credible and meaningful counter-proposals.
Instead of mocking bad policy and stopping, conservatives should compare and contrast good policy with bad. A place for Georgia Republicans to start would be to highlight Georgia’s transition away from coal burning electricity generation to expanded use of solar along with carbon free nuclear power.
Georgians are significantly lowering our environmental impact of generating electricity without rolling blackouts and while maintaining rates that are below the national average. It’s a story more conservatives need to tell, instead of talking about extra laps in their SUVs.