A Letter To Our Conservative Environmentalist Friends:
According to Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, the Texas climatologist and Evangelical Christian, there is only one requirement for membership in the group we call “environmentalists”—one must be a human being. In this same mode, there is only one requirement for membership in the group we call “climate activists”— one must love grandchildren. You don’t even have to have grandchildren. Just the desire for grandchildren to exist, to live, to have a future that equals or surpasses that experienced by past generations of Americans, that is enough. (This is a deeply conservative value.)
For too many years, conservatives have been immune to the urgency of the climate threat. Today the talking point “climate change is fake” has finally evaporated under the weight of documented evidence. Conservatives under the age of 45 want more, not less, engagement with climate solutions. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a closed Caucus meeting last year in which he opened the door to climate engagement because the topic was becoming a problem for Republicans in the voting booth.
Talking points on climate for conservatives seem to have shrunk down to a couple of items. The first is bashing the Green New Deal. (The most regulatory and intrusive elements of the GND resolution are teased out and lambasted.) And then the speaker gets right up to the brink of saying what he would do to fix climate change, and there is — silence. The other option is to say we can’t do anything about climate change because it would cost too much without any mention of the staggering cost of doing nothing. And then, once again — silence.
Dear conservative friends, we need more than silence from you.
There are two great long range challenges to the survival of the American Democracy Experiment. One challenge is the national debt. The other is climate change. Both these challenges are cumulative: troubling now, worse later, and in the end, horrifying, brutal, and existential.
Both these problems require more than just taking shots at political opponents without offering any real solutions. Both problems require less “talk” and more “walk.” Both problems require more than a tweet, a video, or a sound bite and then moving on. They require real world negotiations in real time with real measurable outcomes.
We must quickly reduce carbon emissions, which drive the physical and chemical process.
We have three tools available: regulations, incentives, and the marketplace. We know increased regulations are not compatible with conservative values. Financial incentives for the transition to renewable energy have some bipartisan support, but the amount of money required to do this quickly enough is probably not realistic. This leaves option three: the marketplace approach of carbon pricing with a built in way of returning the dividends to families protecting them from rising energy prices.
There are many small things we can all support, such as tree planting, or the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act which encourages farmers and foresters to build carbon into their soil. But climate change is not a small thing, it is a BIG thing. It requires jumping all in, not just the dipping of toes.
Conservatives — just like progressives — don’t want to anger their constituencies. (Staying in office is often seen as job number one). But such considerations are not appropriate for existential threats. We must be willing to cast hard votes and then explain why we cast them, so that children will touch our headstones with reverence hundreds of years from now, instead of remembering us as the generation that failed them.
First, price carbon. Next, return the money collected in a dividend to American families. Finally, put an end to the “market failure” of subsidized fossil fuels and the artificial “cheapness” of products that doom our future.
We must remember that industries come and they go. For instance, transportation in New York City used to be provided by thousands of horse-and-buggy drivers, then we moved on. For over a hundred years, the internal combustion engine ran the show. We are now once again moving on.
But we need to move faster.
Conservatism is about more than saying no to bad ideas, and being against anything our political opponents say. It is also about facing threats head on with courage, and going all in on the solutions that align with conservative values. It is about engagement and negotiation, not silence and gridlock.
Engaging in climate solutions is vital for the future of conservative values in America.
Weigard and Sylvester-Johnson are both climate activists associated with the Citizens Climate Lobby.