Last week’s launch of the Conservative Climate Caucus, which includes 64 members or 30 percent of the House GOP, is a key milestone in the conservative movement’s shift to an offensive rather than defensive posture on climate change.
The caucus’s core principles around climate change are clear and accessible: It’s real. It’s global. Economic freedom is the answer. And an “all of the above” energy approach rooted in free enterprise is better than an “everything but fossil fuel” policy.
MCCAMMON [HOST]: A majority of Americans of both parties support taking steps to address climate change. But that view, as I’m sure you know, is much stronger among Democrats, and many members of your party, the Republican Party, have cast doubt on the urgency of this issue. What is your conservative climate caucus hoping to achieve?
CURTIS: Well, I think the first thing is to kind of debunk that paradigm. What I find is the vast number of Republicans and conservatives care deeply. And you are right, the loud voices have kind of indicated that we don’t. And I think what we found from the reception among Republicans of this caucus is that there’s a groundswell of people that deeply care about the environment and want to be engaged in a dialogue.
Curtis is right. In politics and life, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Curtis and the caucus made two key strategic decisions when they put the words “conservative” and “climate” together in their name.
First, they rejected the persistent and self-defeating assumption that if you talk about climate change and acknowledge human influences, you’re a socialist. This argument has always been a non sequitur (it doesn’t logically flow) but it persists in our political culture that tolerates and reinforces “us vs. them” tribalism. Conservatives aren’t enabling socialists when they talk about climate change any more than when they talk about poverty. In this respect, Curtis could become the Jack Kemp of the environment. In the Reagan era, Kemp helped give conservatives both the language and policy substance to address poverty and upward mobility. Curtis is doing the same with energy, environment and climate change.
Second, the caucus signaled a clear break with almost 30 years of failed strategy that has sought to downplay the risks of climate change rather than assessing risks dispassionately and then responding with effective solutions. That said, Curtis is no alarmist. He prefers action over apocalyptic histrionics and wants to engage intellectually curious Americans where they are.
The caucus is also well-positioned to counter a progressive movement that lacks seriousness and is behaving like a complacent intellectual monopoly. The Green New Deal is actually delaying climate action by linking it to unrelated socialist goals. Conservatives have an opportunity to flip the script but would do well to follow Kemp’s advice: “The purpose of politics is not to defeat your opponent as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas than the opposition.”
Thankfully, the new climate caucus has an ample supply of leadership, ideas and the rarest virtue of all – courage. Putting “conservative” and “climate” in this same sentence is still a bit of leap for some on the right but it’s becoming less of a leap thanks to this caucus. Having the courage to be misunderstood is an important step. It’s the key to both being understood and creating understanding. In the end, that’s the best and only way to create durable solutions.