I grew up spending most summer days on the docks of Lake Minocqua, a small-town lake in northern Wisconsin. A tranquil place, my father and grandfather taught me environmental stewardship at an early age. From forest expeditions to fishing trips, I saw the delicacies of nature and our duty to conserve it.
No matter where they grew up, millions of other Americans can likely relate to this experience. But politics has gotten in the way of environmental stewardship and is used to divide people. Much of the environmental movement also has embraced an approach to conservation that overlooks personal responsibility and often includes overregulation and limited involvement from local communities.
That’s why, as a college student active in the conservative movement, I have begun working with other conservative college students to change the dialogue. Our aim is to make environmental conservation bipartisan again.
Unfortunately, conservatives rarely talk about these issues. They have become averse to finding solutions because of the dominating force of climate discussions, and the lack of a conservative response. Without an appealing solution, they have tended to turn away from the problem.
Yet, the electoral map shows that most conservative-voting districts reside amid nature. The majority of conservative voters live in rural, natural areas. They may feel alienated by the topic of climate change, but conservatives know the necessity of taking care of the land. They understand how wildlife protection, water quality, and land conservation lead to a successful environment and economy.
In practice, this also rings true. A recent University of Michigan study showed conservatives (and climate skeptics) were more eco-friendly in their day-to-day lives than liberals (and most climate activists).
For young conservatives, appreciation for the environment arguably runs deeper than with older generations. Thanks to residing in natural areas of beauty and being a product of an education system that prioritizes environmental sustainability, we have an unmatched love for the environment. We also are thankful for the God-given land that we were put on Earth to protect.
Still, our values, which hinge on limited-government, economic success and personal responsibility, are no longer represented within environmental discussions. This doesn’t have to be the case, and a growing number of young conservatives are trying to change the narrative.
Our organization, the American Conservation Coalition, recruited 125 college campuses to our repertoire over the last six months. Additionally, 42 of the 50 College Republican state chairs recently signed a letter calling for GOP leaders to put a greater priority on clean energy.
Our coalition also has a platform that acknowledges the importance of free enterprise and innovation in environmental discussions. We will never solve local, national or global environmental issues without innovation on energy sources, emissions reduction, transportation and pollution clean-up.
The best way to provide innovation is to let the market operate competitively. We’ve seen the benefits of this in the United States, where we led the globe in emissions reduction in 2017 without a federal government policy. Innovations like Tesla, the development of clean energy, carbon capture, and corporate leadership play a major role in our slowly improving environment.
Re-examining the federal government’s role in many cases can also be effective. Take the recent string of disastrous summer forest fires. Montana has been plagued by them, but the state Department of Natural Resources has been barred from helping fight the fires because they’ve occurred on federal land.
Montana knows about their forests better than anyone else and should have a larger stake in the forests, especially during times of disaster. It is also true that federally owned forests are often vastly underfunded and undermanaged, whereas state-owned land is usually taken care of more thoroughly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean common-sense, limited, effective government regulation isn’t part of the policy equation. In fact, nearly all Americans agree that state and federal governments have a duty to protect our nation’s environment, wildlife and human health. This can happen through an influx of public-private partnerships, necessary safety and health safeguards, research and development, and common-sense land management practices.
For their part, young conservatives are encouraging GOP leaders to take a stand on alternative reforms. Plastic pollution in our oceans, forest fire prevention, the backlog in repairs to our national parks, and a transition to cleaner energies are just a few of the overlooked topics that we need to address.
The nation needs a bipartisan dialogue, which means Republicans need to be involved in the conversation about our environment. This will take young conservative leadership and action. But we can finally make the environment a bipartisan issue again.