Conservative Climate Crusaders: Not the Oxymoron You Might Think

It's time for conservatives to join the climate debate as more than just the party of "no."

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Why you should care

Because we should embrace the carbon tax as a clean, transparent way to curb unwanted behavior.

Last year will likely go down in history as the second- or third-hottest year on record. It was also the year a lot of climate disputers finally got woke on climate change.

Climate protests in some cities are staged regularly to block morning commutes, and opposing climate posts flood social media, making it easy to cast the debate as us vs. them, left vs. right. But not all conservatives are the bad guys; while we fully admit it has been a struggle to get momentum going in the Republican Party, those of us who make up the sector called the EcoRight have been talking about climate change all along.

In Throwback Thursday parlance, we are the Teddy Roosevelts of the 21st century. Except we don’t speak softly — or carry big sticks. We believe that conservation is conservative, but we also believe that environmental concerns are bipartisan issues we all need to come to an agreement on because the health of the planet affects all of us.

Conservatives have to go to the climate negotiating table with solid ideas based on conservative principles.

Which is why, as a conservative, I’m excited and encouraged by the emergence of new climate champions. Whereas the face of the Republican environmental movement used to be limited to the so-called moderates of the Northeast — think the Susan Collinses of the Senate and the Brian Fitzpatricks of the House — now the names affiliated with climate action belong to the likes of Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who just co-launched the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, and Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, whose name graces multiple carbon tax bills.

Let’s think about that for a minute: The senator from Indiana, considered one of the most conservative states in the union, is assembling a working group on climate change. In Ohio, my home state, the energy efficiency guru Sen. Rob Portman hasn’t been so bold. But even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, facing the reality that young conservatives overwhelmingly support climate change action, recently said that it’s time for the GOP to “have that [climate solutions] debate instead of everybody saying we’re just deniers.”

Some see this trend in GOP ranks as a day late, a dollar short. But come on, we have to start somewhere. We also have to fast-forward through the positive-leaning rhetoric and get right to the solutions.

Conservatives have to go to the climate negotiating table with solid ideas based on conservative principles. Yes, they should push back against the Green New Deal, but it isn’t enough to be the party of no. They have to offer policy options to curb carbon emissions. And part of that story should be elimination of subsidies, including the most costly subsidy on the federal books: the right to freely dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

If I want to take a load to the local dump, I have to pay a tipping fee. But the largest fossil fuel companies in the world get to unload their waste into our collective atmosphere for free?

Americans may not get a monthly bill with this line item, but we pay in other ways: rising public health costs; emergency response to natural disasters; loss of property and tourism dollars; and other immeasurables.

Our new conservative climate champs have an opportunity to truly “level the playing field” not as a convenient talking-point cousin to the “all of the above” energy approach, but by eliminating all energy subsidies. Our new climate champs should embrace the carbon tax, a clean, transparent way to curb behavior we don’t want.

Our new climate champs have an opportunity to join the EcoRight in building a movement. In an era when identity politics tries to harness free thought, conservatives like me are avidly talking to our friends, family and neighbors — sometimes until we are blue in the face — about alternatives to some of the scary, economy-encompassing proposals from the left bandwagon.

While conservatives like me aren’t for the Green New Deal, we aren’t scared to say the words “climate change” or to join the environmental left in the streets demanding climate action. Our time is now.

Tyler Gillette is spokesman for RepublicEn, an organization dedicated to conservative environmental action.

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