It’s no secret—conservatives have fallen behind on environmental issues for the past decade. In issues like clean energy and conservation, we have lost sight of the legacy of environmental stewardship left to us by conservative trailblazers like Ronald Reagan.
A report from Duke University in 2014 detailed why many conservatives ignore the issue: solution aversion.
Solution aversion is the notion that if someone does not like the solution to a problem, they will ignore the problem completely. This can be seen firsthand with conservatives and the environment. Conservatives see green policies as curtailing the rights and values they care about most, like property rights, limited government, and free-market solutions. This is because the environmental movement has failed to acknowledge the importance of these fundamental American values. Far-reaching alarmism promoted by the environmental community has lead to intrusive, anti-business, and big-government proposals that turn conservatives away.
As a result, many conservative leaders have jumped to the farthest opposing side possible, suggesting irrational plans such as bailing out the coal industry or drilling within our cherished National Parks. It is understandable for our movement to be against the Left’s policies, but it is irresponsible to refuse a pro-environmental platform of our own. The conservative movement has been against the left’s policies, rather than for our own ideals. Instead of advocating for our own solutions, the anti-left dialogue is rampant within the conservative movement on this issue and it has been incredibly damaging to the movement and environment.
The Millennial generation is taking notice. Most recent studies show that environmental issues are the most significant for Millennial voters, who may be the largest voting bloc in the 2018 midterms. In fact, a recent poll from the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) and Conservative Energy Network (CEN) showed that 92% of young Americans want to prioritize clean energy. Aside from the obvious moral implications of being environmentally apathetic, conservatives’ lack of emphasis on the environment is hurting them politically as well. Largely because of these issues, Democrats hold a two-to-one advantage over Republicans with Millennial voters.
More importantly, the lack of conservative ideas in environmental politics threatens the planet. It has been difficult to pass meaningful legislation without conservative voices in the mix. The majority of recent environmental laws have consisted of feel-good rhetoric and little substantive action, wasting energy and failing to take account of important sources of clean energy like nuclear power. They punish instead of incentivize, and they disincentivize crucial hands-on conservation practices.
In order to win over and retain important Millennial voters and protect the God-given land all of us cherish, conservatives must make the environment a priority. Thankfully, a new wave of young conservative leaders are attempting to do just that. In Congress, Representatives Carlos Curbelo, Mike Gallagher, Elise Stefanik, and Mia Love are pursuing common-sense environmental policies from a conservative perspective.
College Republicans across the country are joining together to support clean energy and conservation as a priority, with 38 state chairpeople signing onto a letter from the American Conservation Coalition. Additionally, this past Earth Day, conservative organizations like the American Conservation Coalition, College Republicans, Turning Point USA, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, RepublicEn, and Conservative Energy Network called on conservatives to prioritize the environment by participating in Earth Day celebrations across the country.
However, this new wave of young conservative leadership will not be enough for meaningful reform unless the GOP steps up and makes the environment a priority.
As Ronald Reagan once said: “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.” It’s time for conservatives to live up to that ideal and push forth our own ideals on the subject. If we don’t, our Earth, livelihoods, and the conservative movement will suffer.