Opinion | Climate Change and the Environment Need to Be Nonpartisan

Opinion | Climate Change and the Environment Need to Be Nonpartisan

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benji backer

My name is Benji Backer. I’m the author of the “Conservative Environmentalist,” and the founder and chairman of the American Conservation Coalition.


I’ve been a proud conservative since the age of 10. I’m 26 years old. But I’m not here today to defend my party’s stance on climate change. In fact, I actually think they put themselves on the wrong side of history in this fight. Over the last 16 years of my conservative political activism, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated about the role of conservative politics in fighting environmental challenges.

I spoke at a Tea Party rally in 2012. And I was standing there giving a speech about the importance of limiting government and markets, and it was probably the biggest speech I’d ever given at the time. And I was only a 14 or so years old.

And then I got off the stage, and the head of the Tea Party Organization nationally that invited me to speak, started talking about how everyone around me, all of my peers were buying into this crazy climate crisis and started making jokes about purposefully polluting to fight back against them. And I was immediately hopeless about where I was at in that very moment. And by the time I graduated high school, which was around the time Donald Trump ran for president, I started to realize that this problem was so much bigger than what I had originally thought.

archived recording (donald trump)

So Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and the that. And a lot of it’s a hoax.

archived recording (marjoree taylor greene)

Back in the Ice Age, how much taxes did people pay? And how many changes did governments make to melt the ice?

archived recording

Did woolly mammoths pay taxes?

benji backer

You have senators bringing snowballs to the Senate floor to prove that so-called climate change doesn’t actually exist. You have political conservative influencers mocking climate activists, and making them out to all be these radical voices and highlighting the most radical ones to try to prove a political point.

archived recording

It’d be nice if climate change alarmists would stop scaring the you-know-what out of our children by telling them that the world is going to end in a dozen years. It’s not.

benji backer

We don’t hear very often, although this is changing, about what conservatives actually believe and what they would actually do about the problem. And that’s where we need to return to our roots, our environmental roots as conservatives, and change that narrative.


In the past, conservatives were actually the ones to prioritize climate change. We put together the first climate assessment in the United States, the National Climate Assessment. It was also a few decades ago when Republicans created the EPA under Richard Nixon, and the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

It was under Ronald Reagan, where we were fighting the ozone problem with other countries around the world. And it was George H.W. Bush who set aside more public land than any other president in recent history. That is the Republican legacy on the environment. It’s not what we’ve heard over the last 10 years.

For almost all young Americans, who overwhelmingly believe climate change is real, including young conservatives, they see it as if you don’t care about climate change, and you don’t care about the environment, then you don’t care about me. And Republicans really risk losing an entire generation of voters this election and every election thereafter if they can’t get the narrative right, but also back it up with solutions and policies.

So what I’ve found to be the most successful in getting conservatives to act is an approach that rather than mandating people do or don’t use certain energy sources or vehicles or whatever, that we focus on incentives, and boosting people’s pocketbooks if they’re doing the right thing. An example of this is turning shuttering coal plants in rural West Virginia or Utah into nuclear reactor spaces, or solar fields, or wind turbine sites.

And while it’s transitioning to different energy sources, you’re not telling people that they can’t work there anymore, they can’t live there anymore, what car they should drive. In fact, you’re telling them, there’s just going to be a different energy source and you’re still going to be able to keep your job. And if their stake is included in the conversation, conservatives will be there right away.

People ask me all the time, Benji, why don’t you just join a liberal climate organization? Or why don’t you just become a Democrat? And the reality is, while I was frustrated about the right’s approach on climate change, I also felt very disappointed by the left’s approach on climate change, as I heard people like AOC —

archived recording (alexandria ocasio-cortez)

You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? People are dying. They are dying.

benji backer

And Bernie Sanders —

archived recording (bernie sanders)

Why did they leave us a planet which is so unhealthy and so on uninhabitable? Why did they allow more drought to take place, more flooding to take place? Why did they allow the sea levels to continue to rise?

benji backer

I felt two visceral feelings. One was alarmism, and alarmism that paralyzes generations and people trying to fight the challenge. And I also felt like I was hearing radicalism. And it felt like we were throwing stupid paintings and blocking traffic but for no reason other than to get attention, really.

But I thought that was unnecessary, because as I’ve always said, I see the environment and climate is a great unifier among people of different backgrounds. And trying to over radicalize the problem, or cause fear, only puts us against each other. And none of those things had resonated with me.


One of the most frustrating, but also optimistic things about working in this world is that I’ve seen how much opportunity there is across party boundaries to get climate action. In a world where not that long ago, Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve these complex challenges, I believe we can do that again.

It’s clear that we need long-lasting reforms that work and stay across administrations, and you need conservatives to be at the table for that, because I believe inherently that nature is nonpartisan and that we can and will, we have to, make climate change and the environment nonpartisan again. In my lifetime, it’ll happen and we’re not too far off.

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