Liz Peek: To triumph in 2020, Republicans will need to win over millennials – Here’s how to do it

Republicans running in 2020 need to address climate change. Like it or not, the dire warnings about cataclysmic global warming resonate with young voters especially, who see the threat of climate change as real, and likely to impact their lives.

But, GOP candidates do not have to buy into the loony Green New Deal, or endorse climate fixes that hurt our economy for questionable gains. Instead, as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has shown, they can win politically by delivering clean air and water programs that improve peoples’ quality of life. In short, they can separate environment from climate.

Voter approval of Republican Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida governor’s mansion by a whisker last fall, is soaring. Polls have him at 60 percent or above, the highest in more than a decade for anyone holding that office.

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As a recent Mason Dixon poll revealed, DeSantis scores well not only with Republicans but also with Democrats.

How has he done it? Partly by tackling full-force the algae blooms that garnered nationwide attention when they threatened Florida’s waters and economy. DeSantis created a top-drawer task force of environmental academics to study the toxic blue-green slime, put more effort behind monitoring the state’s water management procedures, vowed to oppose offshore drilling, allocated funds for cleaning up existing blooms, and promised a host of other measures including creating a 17,000 acre Everglades reservoir.

The aggressive commitment is working for him, and for the people of Florida. There’s a lesson there.

The rising amounts of everlasting garbage in our waterways is a horror. Finding plastic in the bellies of fish and in pristine seas is disgusting; we can all get on board with trying to fix that.

Millennial voters want action on climate change. They won’t be impressed by rational debates on the topic, or cost-benefit analyses. They don’t care that China spews more pollution into the air than the U.S. and Europe combined, or that Beijing is still building coal-powered plants despite its empty promises to clean up its act. They are unimpressed that the U.S. is one of the few developed nations that has lowered emissions, because of the increased use of natural gas.

None of those facts damp the fervor of young voters. The GOP has to have an answer, or several answers, that focus the debate away from futuristic projections of sea changes or rising temperatures and instead on achievable, pragmatic solutions to existing environmental challenges that do not undermine our energy industries (which give U.S. producers an important competitive advantage) or our way of life.

For example: Republicans should attack the dumping of plastic into the oceans. Or, promise to follow through on the government’s long-stalled plan to dispose of nuclear waste. Or campaign on making sure every American has access to safe drinking water. Each region has individual issues, but some appeal nationally.

Like, for instance, cleaning up the oceans. The rising amounts of everlasting garbage in our waterways is a horror. Finding plastic in the bellies of fish and in pristine seas is disgusting; we can all get on board with trying to fix that.

As Americans head to the beach this summer, they will find evidence of this blight; plastic floating in the sea off Cape Cod, fish that have swallowed parts of straws or other bits of garbage in the Great Lakes, water bottles washed up on Santa Monica Beach. This is a nationwide, indeed, a global problem.

The Ocean Conservancy reports that “every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) equates 8 million metric tons to the weight of 90 aircraft carriers.

After the people of Flint, Michigan, were delivered water containing dangerous amounts of lead, the nation learned that not every citizen has access to clean and safe drinking water. This is an outrage in our prosperous nation.

Plastic does not decompose; it just piles up. It does, however, break down into tiny bits called microplastics, generally smaller than 5 mm, which can end up in fish or other seas creatures we eat. The Conservancy says that 60 percent of seabirds and 100 percent of sea turtle varieties have plastic in their systems, having mistaken straws and other items for food.

While some plastic sinks to the ocean floor, some floats and can gather into large areas of debris. The largest “dump” of plastic garbage is found between Hawaii and California, in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). The “patch” is estimated to cover a surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, roughly three times the size of France. A group called Ocean Cleanup calculates there are more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the dump, weighing an estimated 80,000 metric tons.

Attacking this pollution of our waterways is important, and would be popular.

Similarly, candidates should campaign on safely burying our nation’s nuclear waste in the Yucca Mountain site selected by Congress in 1987 but stalled for political reasons by the Obama administration in 2015. As Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, the Yucca site sits on 8,400 square miles of U.S.-owned land, an area bigger than the state of Massachusetts. It has been determined that our nuclear leftovers could be safely buried there for at least one million years.

Moving forward on secure disposal might smooth the path for nuclear energy, which today supplies, as Barrasso points out, 60 percent of our carbon-free energy, or “more than three times the energy produced by wind and more than 18 times the amount from solar.” We cannot be serious about addressing climate change unless we welcome increased nuclear power.

After the people of Flint, Michigan, were delivered water containing dangerous amounts of lead, the nation learned that not every citizen has access to clean and safe drinking water. This is an outrage in our prosperous nation, and an important challenge, which Republicans would do well to embrace.

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Climate and environment are not the same. However, an activist environmental agenda could help win the hearts of young voters, without destroying our economy.

In the 2020 election, millennial voters will be as big a voter block as baby boomers. GOP candidates need to address their concerns.