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Millennials, Climate Change and Your Company's Business and Policy Decisions

If you’re looking for insights into how millennials view climate change and – more to the point – how those views might factor into your company’s future policy positions and business decisions – this week offered a few good data points.

First, a survey released by the non-profit Alliance for Market Solutions in Washington, D.C., featured these two notable findings:

  • Nearly nine out of 10 millennials believe climate change is happening, and the vast majority of those believe that change is being driven by human activity.
  • Over 60 percent of young Republicans said they are concerned about air pollution, and over 50 percent say they are concerned about climate change.

Second, as reported by E&E News among others, a group of 22 college Republican clubs, six Democratic clubs and five nonpartisan collegiate environmental groups from across the country launched a national coalition called Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD) “with the aim of bringing market-based climate change solutions to the forefront of the national debate.”

The new coalition articulates its Founding Statement as follows: “As young Republicans and Democrats with decades of life ahead, we believe that protecting our shared environment and mitigating the risks of climate instability is of paramount importance.”

The developments are interesting because we now have an entire generation of Americans for whom there is not (and never has been) a debate over the science of climate change. The view so often expressed by Sen. James Inhofe, for example – that there’s scientific disagreement over the extent to which humans contribute to an ever-changing climate – is as foreign to millennials as an eight-track audio cartridge. From the time they set foot in school, from their initial news consumption, their first exposure to movies, and their conversations with peers, the mantra of human-induced climate change has been a constant.

One of the obvious questions of this circumstance is: How quickly, to the extent it hasn’t already done so, will this dynamic influence policy positions and/or business decisions in the energy world? There’s a whole swath of states in the Southeast, for example, that do not have a renewable portfolio standard. While the focus of the Alliance for Market Solutions and Students for Carbon Dividends is a carbon tax, the views held by millennials on climate change could manifest themselves into policies or business decisions in any number of ways. Might we soon see more states in the South – with or without the support of electric utilities – enacting renewable or clean energy standards?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee just threw in the towel in the state legislature on a proposed carbon tax. Is this a long-term setback for the concept or will it soon prove to be just a bump in the road?

Red states? Blue states? Will it matter as millennials come of age? A story just beginning to unfold.

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