Americans under 30 are far more concerned about climate change and limiting carbon emissions than the general population, so it doesn’t make sense that recent polls show close to 20 percent of millennials say they’re planning to vote for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. A vote for Johnson will benefit Donald Trump in some key swing states, making it more likely that he’ll be able to implement his absurd anti-environmental agenda. And when it comes to practical consequences for climate change, there’s simply not a huge difference between Trump and Johnson: Johnson’s utter weakness on the issue is not much better than Trump’s outright denialism.
The Libertarian platform calls for eliminating environmental laws and regulations altogether. No EPA. Nobody to prevent pollution before it happens. Under the Libertarian plan, individuals and communities would seek relief from filthy air or spoiled waterways only through the courts. As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times about the idea, “Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers – what could go wrong?”
The truth is, we’ve already tried this. Before the EPA was established in 1970, America’s failed patchwork of weak state environmental protections led to horrific industrial pollution. In the decades since we first set national standards for clean air, smog-choked cities have seen dramatic improvements in air quality and far fewer Americans are experiencing sickness or premature death caused by dirty air.
The nation’s waters were in terrible shape before the EPA and the Clean Water Act, with many rivers, lakes and streams off-limits to swimming or fishing. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland actually caught fire, its oily mix of pollutants set ablaze by sparks from a passing train. Today the fish have returned and the river has come back to life thanks to common sense limits on pollution.
Trump and the Libertarians claim the U.S. economy needs to be rid of certain environmental regulations in order to grow, but gross domestic product has expanded by 238 percent since 1970, and few companies outside the coal industry would claim that a dirtier, more polluted America will be good for business.
Younger Americans have grown up in a country with cleaner air and safer water than their parents and grandparents enjoyed. They take for granted that big polluters will be kept in check so we can all enjoy our lakes and rivers, let our kids play outside and drink safe water from the tap. That doesn’t happen, though, by itself. It takes leadership. If millennial voters don’t want a future that looks like America’s devastated environmental past, a vote for Johnson or Trump would be a huge mistake.
Only one candidate has pledged to build on our environmental progress, protect our health, expand America’s leading role in fighting climate change and usher in a vibrant clean energy economy, and that’s why the NRDC Action Fund endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Rhea Suh is president of the NRDC Action Fund.