Partisanship rules everything in Washington. Issues belong to one party or the other. In the next 30 days, dozens of groups will spend millions of dollars to make those divisions as stark as possible.

Except my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, which will be doing just the opposite.


Beginning with a $2 million campaign in Colorado to turn out young voters, we hope to bring the major parties together in a productive debate about solving climate change. Our aim is to demonstrate to both sides that courting voters who care about climate change is smart politics. 

The logic behind this effort is obvious, as is the math. More than 80 percent of the 75 million Americans in the Millennial generation say they care about solving climate change. That’s not a surprise, since they’re the ones who will have to deal with the biggest consequences of it.

This group of young voters represents a major political force in some elections. According to CIRCLE, an organization that tracks youth turnout in elections, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMeghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Trump seeks to distance strong economy from Obama policies in White House report The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate MORE won young voters but lost the over-45 vote in several battleground states, including Florida, Ohio and Virginia. In 2008, more than half of 18 –to-29 year olds voted. In 2010, it was just a quarter – a far bigger drop off than with older voters.

Put together their interest in solving climate change with their uncertain turnout in elections and you have a huge potential to swing the outcome of key races. Republicans in competitive elections could prevail if they captured a larger share of this vote by avoiding the “out-of-touch” label that comes with denying basic climate science. Democrats in close contests could turn out additional young climate voters by presenting bold plans to cut carbon pollution and rescue their future from the impacts of climate change.

To prove the point, EDF’s Defend Our Future campaign will be working in Colorado between now and Election Day collecting 100,000 pledges to vote based on climate change. We’re asking young voters to sign-up to pressure politicians to offer real solutions to climate change. And we won’t be going at it alone -- we’re lining up partnerships with Millennial-focused organizations that will help us orchestrate the effort that we’ll be announcing soon. Then we’ll take what we’ve learned in this campaign to other states in 2015 and 2016.

Our goal is not to elect certain candidates, or give either party a boost. Instead, we want to revive a productive debate about how best to limit the pollution that is threating huge costs and disruptive change to our climate. For those who think that’s impossible, remember that as recently as 2008 both major party presidential candidates supported aggressive federal action on climate change. 

I'm a political scientist, not a climate scientist. But the scientific reasons for acting on climate change are already clear and compelling, and we need to make the political reasons every bit as urgent. Millennial voters, who will dominate our elections for the next half century, and who care very much about the world they are inheriting from us, are the ones who can transform our political landscape. We can use the tools of political science, with data-driven strategies aimed at changing voting behavior, to reach them.

Prevost, PhD is a senior adviser at Environmental Defense Fund and a fellow at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies