Conservatives have been losing on climate change for a long time. Ahead of the 2020 election, two-thirds of all voters and a majority of Republicans said that climate change was important to their vote. However, when asked which party would do a better job addressing climate change, 54% of voters said Democrats, and 22% said, Republicans.
Yet, when faced with the cost of Democratic proposals, Americans are skeptical. Sixty-eight percent would be unwilling to pay $10 more a month on their electric bill to address climate change, to say nothing of underwriting a $93 trillion Green New Deal that would increase the average family’s energy costs by 30%.
Clearly, there’s a gap. Americans want to tackle climate change but are unwilling to sacrifice their livelihoods for it. Thankfully, conservatives are now offering an alternative. This week, 60 House Republicans joined the Conservative Climate Caucus, led by Representative John Curtis (UT-03), to demonstrate a path forward to fight climate change without abandoning conservative principles or economic prosperity. With this, Republicans are reclaiming the party’s conservation heritage.
Indeed, the GOP has a long history of environmental leadership. The most significant environmental achievements in American history have come under conservative leadership, from Teddy Roosevelt kickstarting the National Parks movement, to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency under Nixon, to the signing of the Montreal Protocol under Reagan. More recently, Republican support was crucial to passing public lands and energy legislation in the 116th Congress in 2020.
By embracing this proud heritage and reestablishing our credibility on the environment, we can put conservation back into conservatism. After all, we are the movement of farmers, sportsmen, and rural Americans – we represent the communities that rely on and benefit most from a healthy environment. We, therefore, recognize that climate change is a threat to the health, livelihoods, and security of all Americans and that we have a duty to the next generation to leave the planet in a better condition than we found it.
As opposed to the tried-and-failed approach of picking winners and losers, beating climate change will require all the tools in our toolbelt – that’s why conservatives support an all-of-the-above energy strategy that supports any technology that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We understand that the private sector, not the government, leads innovation. We need to cut red tape to unleash green energy build-out because it is a free market that drives efficiency and technological progress. We don’t see rural and traditional energy communities as the problem; we want to put them on the front lines of climate solutions instead of making them collateral damage due to more government intervention.
We also prefer authentic, honest leadership on the global stage instead of the empty rhetoric embodied by the Paris Agreement. Opening up free trade for environmental goods and services, exporting clean American-made technology, and holding China accountable are real ways in which the U.S. can lead the world. By promoting innovation, empowering local communities, and focusing on positive, actionable steps forward, conservatives can ensure a more sustainable and prosperous future for all Americans.
Ultimately, we don’t have to accept the progressive status quo on climate change. The newly launched Conservative Climate Caucus will provide an opportunity for more Republican voices to engage in this conversation in a meaningful way. Our side can win by putting conservation back into conservatism, calling out ineffective Democratic climate plans, and championing real climate solutions that will benefit all Americans. That’s the conservative approach to climate change.
Christopher Barnard is the national policy director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).