It’s hard to believe that a third of a year has passed between Election Day and now. But in that time, we’ve seen lots of analysis of Obama’s sizable margin of victory among youth voters. We know technology and President Obama’s familiarity with pop culture gave him an advantage, but we’ve also determined that Obama’s platform had quite a bit to do with his youth appeal as well. One thing I’d like to look at today is the “green” movement and what kind of an effect Obama’s leadership on this topic might have for Millennials in the future.

In a post on the New York Times blog “Green Inc.” this week, Kate Galbraith discussed the boom in students taking environmental studies classes at college. Galbraith collected information from professors of environmental science/studies programs at various institutions across the country.

At colleges around the country, students seem to be flocking to environmental studies.

At Boston College, 17 students minored in environmental studies in 2003; this year 44 students will do so (assuming everyone graduates).

Iowa State University has seen the number of students enrolled in environmental studies and environmental science programs soar from 99 students in fall 2003 to more than 150 last fall.

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At the University of Virginia, “We have definitely seen an increase in majors over the past two-three years, but where we have really increased are the environmental science courses we teach to non-majors,” said Jay Zieman, the chair of the University of Virginia’s environmental sciences department in an e-mail message. “That number has increased 45 percent over the past five years.”

The one slight outlier of my four-college survey was the University of Pennsylvania. The number of undergraduates majoring in environmental studies peaked at 44 in 2002, but now is down to 32 (still higher than the 20 in 1999). However, the number of master’s degrees in environmental policy hit a 10-year high last year, and the university has seen a spurt of master’s enrollment in related areas like hydrology.

Many of these increases certainly were already occurring prior to President Obama’s candidacy and election. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a relationship between the two worth examining.

Energy issues were a large part of President Obama’s campaign in 2008. Obama announced in his energy plan that he planned to create five million new jobs by expanding the green sector of the economy, and broaden the number of economic opportunities for underrepresented Americans, such as veterans and youth.

Invest in Our Secure Energy Future and Create 5 Million New Jobs

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will use a portion of the revenue generated from the cap‐and‐trade permit auction to make investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and accelerate deployment of low‐carbon technologies. The investments will focus on three critical areas: 1) Basic Research; 2) Technology Demonstration and 3) Aggressive Commercial Deployment and Clean Market Creation.

• Invest In A Clean Energy Economy and Help Create 5 Million New Green Jobs. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will strategically invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug‐in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. The plan will also invest in America’s highly‐skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers to ensure that American workers have the skills and tools they need to pioneer the green technologies that will be in high demand throughout the world. All together these investments will help the private sector create 5 million new green jobs, good jobs that cannot be outsourced.

• Create a “Green Vet Initiative”. The renewable energy economy is exploding in the United States. In terms of venture capital alone, private investment in the sector topped $2.6 billion dollars in 2007. At the same time, more than 837,000 troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are now veterans. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure that more of our veterans can enter the new energy economy. They will create a new “Green Vet Initiative” that will have two missions: first it will offer counseling and job placement to help veterans gain the skills to enter this rapidly growing field; second, it will work with industry partners to create career pathways and educational programs.

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• Create New Job Training Programs for Clean Technologies. The Obama‐Biden plan will increase funding for federal workforce training programs and direct these programs to incorporate green technologies training, such as advanced manufacturing and weatherization training, into their efforts to help Americans find and retain stable, high‐paying jobs. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will also create an energy‐focused youth jobs program to invest in disconnected and disadvantaged youth. This program will provide youth participants with energy efficiency and environmental service opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings in their communities, while also providing them with practical skills and experience in important career fields of expected high‐growth employment. Participants will not only be able to use their training to find new jobs, but also build skills that will help them move up the career ladder over time.

Millennials loved what Obama was selling. As we know from Eric Greenberg’s Generation We, in which he cites Greenberg Millennial Survey data,

…not only does Generation We embrace the cause of environmental protection and a new energy paradigm, they have a real sense of urgency about it. For example, in the GMS, 74 percent say, “We must make major investments now to innovate the next generation of nonfossil fuel based energy solutions,” compared to just 26 percent who say, “We should continue on our current path, gradually shifting the mix of sources used to meet our energy needs.” In addition, 94 percent agreed that “our country must take extreme measures now, before it is too late, to protect the environment and begin to reverse the damage we have done.” Seventy-four percent say this situation is either a “crisis that our country must address immediately” or a major problem.

Even though President Obama’s candidacy came after the Millennials’ progressive, green-minded views came to fruition, there’s still a chicken and egg thing going on here.

It’s no secret that Obama’s language over the course of the campaign targeted Millennials. They reappear above: Urgency. New paradigms. Investment.  Future Majority has frequently discussed the importance of such a substantive campaign targeting youth so heavily.

But what is that importance? Put differently, now that 1.) we have many more students majoring in environmental studies today than we did five years ago, and 2.) President Obama is attempting to change the paradigm in the energy discussion, what does that portend for Millennials?

One possibility is that Millennials — known for being collaborative, institution-dwellers, and earth-minded — use these skills and traits to rise within corporations and institutions by developing “green” expertise. I see this quite a bit in my higher ed circle. Many colleges and universities, concerned with their bottom lines, are now looking for advice on how to become more sustainable (and more economical). A simple Google search for “sustainability coordinator” reveals a host of different schools who have the positions on their payrolls, like Duke, University of Idaho, and the University of Dayton. Many of these coordinators are young professionals (Millennials) who are using their technological expertise and more green-focused college educations to get a foot in the door, while creating positive change. So, while Boomers may still be in the captain’s seat at most organizations, Millennials are proving their worth, stamping their values on these institutions.

This is just one more example of the importance of a president who invests in the future. More opportunities for young people. More opportunities for the country. And, in this case, more time for the earth.

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