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Conservatives Can Return to Roots with Natural Climate Solutions

Going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt, who preserved 230 million acres of public land and founded the U.S. Forest Service, conservatives have a proud legacy of protecting nature and our precious American landscapes. 

Conservation is a deeply held conservative principle stemming from a desire to preserve what is intrinsically valuable and pass it on to future generations.

Unfortunately, the threat of climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to our communities. As droughts multiply, temperature records break every year, and extreme weather events intensify, rural Americans risk losing their livelihoods and way of life. Too often, the political Left portrays these communities as somehow enemies of the environment or obstacles to climate action. Many of the Left’s climate policies would disproportionately impact rural economies and bloat the role of government in their lives. As conservatives, we can’t allow our rural communities to become collateral damage – of either climate change or government overreach.

While many climate activists and politicians focus primarily on reducing our carbon emissions by shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy, we cannot overlook another strategy for significant emissions reduction: natural climate change solutions. Whereas clean energy solutions help us reduce the CO2 we release into the atmosphere, nature can help us remove existing CO2 directly from the atmosphere, a process known as natural carbon sequestration.

Indeed, nature is the original carbon capture machine, pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in forests, soils, oceans, and other ecosystems. The potential for improvement is enormous. According to the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of the Sciences (PNAS), nature-based solutions can account for 37% of all greenhouse gas reductions required by 2030, in line with IPCC projections.

Embracing such natural solutions can directly remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere and leverage the beautiful American heritage of which Teddy Roosevelt was so proud. Crucially, it also puts farmers and landowners at the forefront of climate solutions, combining their day-to-day stewardship of the land with the opportunity to be real leaders on climate change.

Conservatives, especially, must own the narrative on natural climate change solutions, given that farmers, ranchers, foresters, and people who use the outdoors have been a core constituency of American conservatism for centuries.

After all, conservatives represent the people that rely on the environment for their daily sustenance. Nature-based solutions provide the perfect opportunity for conservatives to return to their conservation roots.

A significant step was made in the right direction last month when the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA). Co-sponsored by influential Republicans such as Senator Mike Braun of Indiana and Tim Scott of South Carolina, GCSA passed 92 votes to 8. In fact, more Democrats than Republicans voted against the bill, with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Ed Markey as the glaring nays.

GCSA has a two-pronged approach to advancing natural climate solutions. First, it develops a certification program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it easier for farmers and forest landowners to participate in voluntary carbon credit markets. Second, it provides technical assistance to these landowners to learn more about the new opportunities to implement carbon sequestration practices successfully.

This commonsense approach leverages the best of both the private sector and the federal government. Carbon markets provide a direct financial incentive for farmers and landowners to adopt practices that reduce carbon emissions and make their land more resilient. While the government can help provide direction by establishing clear criteria for such a market to function, it fundamentally leaves most of the initiative to private actors to innovate, expand, and respond to price signals.

By increasing the accessibility of carbon markets for these landowners, the Growing Climate Solutions Act will empower rural American communities to be on the front line of tackling climate change rather than placing a burden on these communities. It follows the principle often espoused by eco-conservatives: markets, not mandates. As the bill now makes its way from the Senate to the House of Representatives, Republicans would do well to bear this in mind.

Ultimately, GCSA is only one example of a broader narrative that conservatives should own. By conserving our beautiful landscapes, empowering rural communities, and revitalizing local economies, conservatives have the opportunity to promote a hands-on, back-to-the-roots approach to climate action. From planting trees to restoring soil health on farms, natural climate solutions are solutions that Teddy Roosevelt himself would champion – and we can champion them too.

Christopher Barnard is the National Policy Director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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