November 13, 2012

So Obama is President: What's Next for the Youth Climate Movement?

Election season is over, and organizers are finally seeing some blank spaces on their calendars. Even beyond the presidential race, the climate movement has made some real progress. Going forward, how can we convert our momentum into meaningful change? This is a great forum to generate new ideas, and I've got some thoughts to get us started.

First, let's look at where we stand now. As a group, young voters reasserted our power in this election. Despite some predictions, youth turnout was even higher than in 2008, swinging at least eighty electoral votes . Meanwhile, several states chose climate-friendly congresspeople over their anti-environmental opponents.

We've been here before. In 2008, many young voters, environmentalists, and climate hawks had worked to get Obama elected. We then sat back to watch, thinking that our work was done now that "one of us" was in the White House. That was a mistake that took us the better part of four years to correct. However, by the end of Obama's first term, we had finally learned to challenge him, and the result was a partial victory on Keystone XL, as well as a nod to climate change late in the campaign.

Now we face a new question: How will the President's attitudes evolve now that he's in his second term? Will he remember whom he owes his re-election to? He no longer has to worry about the green vote, or any other vote, so he's less accountable to his base. Yet he still has to compromise with the Republican House if he wants to get anything done.

On the other hand, Obama now has more freedom to pursue green initiatives than he did before. When the EPA announced its regulations for new coal-fired power plants, we speculated that bolder rules could come in a second term. We may soon find out where the President truly stands on issues like this.

But, as activists and organizers, we can't just relax and enjoy the show. To get the results we need, we have to continually show Obama that he has a movement behind him, demanding climate action. In other words, we have to build a "permission structure" for responsible policy.

You take it from here: What can we do to keep climate in the political conversation, while continuing to push for real action?