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Why Candidates Should Step Up on Climate

With election season in full swing, the stage has been set for a second Biden-Trump showdown. For many voters, November now represents a choice between two disappointing, polarizing extremes – including on the issues of energy and climate. 

Support for climate action is high, but willingness to pay astronomical costs is not. The average American wants common-sense and effective climate action, meaningful and pragmatic environmentalism that won’t break the bank for taxpayers. But, as of now, no one on the ballot this fall represents these priorities. Voters deserve a candidate who prioritizes energy affordability and commits to environmental progress.

>>>READ: Florida’s Lab Meat Ban and the Perils of Synthetic Conservatism

President Biden has prioritized climate, but through irresponsibly colossal spending.  With the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration funneled billions into a transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles, the subsidies for which could cost taxpayers upwards of $1.8 trillion. Yet the administration has failed to meaningfully modernize the regulatory system that strangles clean energy projects in red tape, including accessing the critical minerals necessary for sustainable innovations like electric vehicles. Biden’s administration revoked the Keystone XL Pipeline’s permit, paused new liquefied natural gas export projects, and slow-walked oil and gas leasing on federal lands. 

While some of Biden’s more common-sense acts, like expanding applied research and development, and most recently, easing permitting for geothermal extraction on federal lands, have been moves in the right direction, his policies have largely spurned the climate realism, job creation, and lower fuel costs associated with an all-of-the-above energy approach.

President Biden’s predecessor was also deeply irresponsible on climate rhetoric, describing the issue as “nonexistent” and a “hoax.” Words matter, particularly when it comes to actualizing common-sense climate policy. Trump’s denialist language discourages conservatives from constructively engaging on climate, which hamstrings durable progress and hampers American leadership on the issue globally. In the year 2024, denialism is profoundly out of step with voters’ priorities. It is not a winning strategy for any serious candidate – and it certainly isn’t a winning strategy for our country and world. 

The economy or the climate? Why not both?

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Americans across the political spectrum want to see something done about climate change. According to a CNN poll conducted this past December, 73% of adults in the country feel the government should take steps to reduce domestic emissions. This sweeping majority includes broad support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. In fact, January 2024 research from the American Conservation Coalition found that, among young conservatives, 69% consider climate change an important issue, 76% want environmental conservation to be a priority, and 76% again support a shift toward clean energy. 

At the same time, climate change largely fails to compete with traditional pocketbook issues like the economy, energy costs, and taxes. One poll from the University of Chicago found that 62% of Americans would not even be willing to pay $1 a month to address climate change. Even among youth voters ranking the importance of major issues, climate change places 13 out of 16, while inflation is in first place.

Denialism is not a winning policy. But neither is radicalism. A Pew survey from the summer of 2023 found that only about one-third of Americans believe that the U.S. should phase out fossil fuels completely and as soon as possible, with a majority instead supporting a varied, inclusive energy profile. They support climate action on the corporate and individual levels, not through top-down government mandates.

Climate is becoming a growing part of every party’s strategy. But the “how” of the strategy is critically important. Embracing free market policies that boost productivity and wages and lower energy bills and emissions will be the hallmark of any successful pragmatic energy and climate platform. 

>>>READ: New Polling Shows Where Young Conservatives Stand On The Environment

While climate might not be the absolute make-or-break issue of the 2024 election, it should still be a priority for any candidate interested in accurately and fully representing the interests of the American public. And in a tight race where every issue – and every point – counts, adapting climate policy around voters’ priorities could ultimately represent a significant electoral advantage come fall. Indeed, the issues of cost of living, inflation, and climate and energy policy are inextricably intertwined – and will be top of mind for voters this fall.

Americans are tired of being forced to choose between inaction and extremism. With months remaining before ballots are cast, there is still time for 2024 to be a turning point away from the all-or-nothing climate narrative that hurts not only voters but also the candidates jockeying for their support. A new electoral path forward is possible – but it’s up to candidates to recognize the opportunity climate offers them. 

Nadia Suben is a member of the American Conservation Coalition Action (ACC Action), as well as the founder and former president of the organization’s New York City branch. She is a student at Indiana University.

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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