For more than two decades, Republicans have played defense against the likes of Al Gore and climate alarmism. A previously bipartisan issue – to protect our planet from the worst effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions – has become political.
When Democrats doubled down on climate alarmism in the early 2000s, Republicans distanced themselves from the climate issue due to the extreme connotation, rather than championing solutions that fit within their principles. In the last few years, the tide has begun a promising turn.
2021 was a watershed year for climate action, but not from Democrats. In reality, Republicans have gone on climate offense with true Republican climate change solutions. Congressman John Curtis, for example, began the Conservative Climate Caucus last summer, and now the caucus is the second-largest in the House of Representatives. On the heels of incredible legislative wins in 2020 such as the Great American Outdoors Act and Energy Act of 2020, Republicans have and continue to demonstrate commitment to the issue of climate.
Meanwhile, those on the left have turned to sweeping regulations, higher taxes, and bigger government to solve the climate challenge. Real solutions, however, are not as simple as an increase in spending or banning of industries. We don’t need out-of-touch proposals from people who believe the larger the price tag – or the page count – the better the proposal. In order to best address climate change, we must apply the tools we have today rather than hope things will magically fall together in the future, if only we spend enough money.
Despite their legislative progress, only 39% of young adults think that Republicans care about climate change, according to a new poll from my organization. For those of us in the conservative environmental space, this number is mind-boggling, but it’s a reality that must be faced, especially with crucial midterm elections rapidly approaching.
Even though there is robust legislative evidence to support that Republicans have, in fact, prioritized environmental issues over the past few years, young people remain unconvinced. This stems from the fact that for young Americans, the environment is not just another policy issue. Instead, environmentalism is a value, inherent to who they are as people. When young people hear Democrats talking about climate change at every campaign stop, they feel heard, even if Republicans are really the ones pushing actionable solutions legislatively.
The fact is for young people, rhetoric is just as important as concrete evidence. Ahead of the midterms, Republicans must say and demonstrate that they care about our natural environment and the threats it faces due to climate change. Talking about solutions and taking legislative action are, of course, important, but if they’re not supplemented by empathizing with young people’s environmental concerns, they lose their value.
Over the past few years, Republican climate change solutions have taken a seat at the table in a real way, but public perception has yet to catch up. With the Gen-Z youth vote growing in both size and power, it’s critical for Republicans to demonstrate that young people’s concerns are their concerns too.
Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).