Young Conservatives: Not Engaging on Climate Is a ‘Huge Loss’ for the Republican Party

Image: Benji Backer/ACC

by Julia Pyper, Host/Producer Political Climate

The American West is being
ravaged by wildfires. The Atlantic region is seeing a record number of named hurricanes in a season. Floods in the Midwest have impacted crop yields. For decades, we have been warned of the dangers that climate change will bring, but U.S. policymakers have failed to effectively mitigate these risks by building resilience and dramatically lowering greenhouse gas emissions. 

The good news is that the American public supports policy action on climate now more than ever. And while partisan divides continue to block climate action, engagement is growing among young Americans from across the political spectrum. Progressive groups such as The Sunrise Movement and Fire Drill Fridays aren’t the only organizations driving the youth climate movement. Young conservatives are also calling on their political leaders to enact pragmatic, market-based solutions to tackle climate change, arguing that the Republican Party stands to lose an entire generation of voters by ignoring the issue.

For the Republican Party not to engage on climate change is a huge loss,” Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), the nation’s largest conservative environmental organization, told the Political Climate podcast this week.

Why This Matters: Climate and environmental policies have been primarily driven by Democratic policymakers over the last few decades, but were originally widely bipartisan. Research shows that in the 1980s, oil and gas companies successfully sowed doubt within the Republican Party about the science of climate change. However, extreme weather events are now vindicating scientific projections with disastrous consequences, while youth within the Republican Party say they are strongly supportive of principled action on clean energy, modern infrastructure, environmental protection and other ways of reducing emissions to address climate change.

#WhatAboutClimate: The American Conservation Coalition has been outspoken about what Republicans are getting right and wrong on climate. Most recently, the ACC spearheaded an effort called #WhatAboutClimate in response to the Republican National Committee refusing to include climate change in the party platform. Backer told Political Climate that the decision caused frustration among young conservatives who acknowledge that “we needed climate reform yesterday.”

Republicans Stepping Up? While there may be some disappointment, Backer strongly believes that leaders from both major political parties will need to be at the table in order to create effective climate solutions for the future. He said that a growing number of Republican lawmakers are now doing just that, pointing to state-level climate policies put in place under Republican governors in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Backer says other federal, state and local leaders are also stepping up. This week, he embarked on a 50-day road trip across the U.S. in a Tesla Model X to shine a light on local-level climate solutions being put in place by leaders from a variety of political ideologies. 

Trump Under Pressure: Backer contends that broad and growing support for climate action, including within the Republican Party, was made evident this month at President Trump’s address in Jupiter, Florida. While the president lauded his administration’s “environmental achievements,” a claim that does not comport with his record of environmental rollbacks, he did announce the signing of an executive order extending the moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf Coast and expanding it to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, as well as the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. 

According to Backer, Trump’s decision to announce the offshore drilling moratorium says less about his green credentials and more about the pressure he’s receiving to address environmental issues from members of his own party.

To Dig Deeper: Listen to Benji Backer’s full interview with Political Climate wherever you get podcasts. For more updates, you can follow Political Climate on Twitter @poli_climate.


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