From clean air to climate change to emergency response, conservative leaders can and should lead the environmental policy space. We’ve got to get fear and politics out and focus on what will make a tangible difference in improving the lives and health of all Americans.
The original environmental movement in the U.S. started this way, but for a variety of reasons, it has lost its way. Perhaps for this reason, only 41% of Americans today consider themselves to be environmentalists, compared to 76% in 1989.
In recent decades, we’ve let extremists masquerading as conservationists push bad ideas, and fear-based rhetoric take over and define the landscape. This has led to terrible policy decisions with real consequences for the American public. In some instances, it is undermining environmental progress.
Agencies created to “protect public health and the environment” have been co-opted by socialist forces to control the economy and put down great American industries instead of improving their efficiencies and relative environmental footprint. It’s also led to a new form of anxiety among young Americans — eco-anxiety.
For this to stop, we need conservative leaders to step up and lead. We need to make sure that energy and environmental policy is one of our priorities. Fully 76% of people in Gen Z say that climate change is one of their biggest societal concerns.
But they don’t hear many Republicans talking about the issue. This leads to the natural assumption that only Democrats care about the issue, and only Democrats are offering solutions to protect the natural world.
This isn’t accurate. Conservatives are conservationists too, and we have policy solutions that can make wise use of our natural resources to bolster both people and nature. Critically, conservative policy proposals in this arena are actually feasible and realistic — unlike many proposals from the political left, which impose arbitrary deadlines on certain types of energy (that Americans presently depend on to keep the lights and the heat on in our homes).
We are blessed with abundant natural resources in the United States. We know how to extract, refine, transport, and consume them more efficiently — and more responsibly — than other nations. Our modern energy systems have changed our lives for the better.
Since the energy renaissance of 2010, U.S. leaders have been in an advantaged position with access to energy resources that can meet our current needs and future growth and be shared with allies abroad.
The biggest threat to this advantage includes anti-fossil energy policies being pushed by leftists and current White House leaders, such as the Green New Deal, net zero, and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing. Our lives will not function without fossil energy like coal, oil, and natural gas — which make up 80% of the energy we use.
Our policy leaders must accept this fact. Attacking these industries is already creating serious consequences. It’s driving historic levels of inflation, shipping jobs overseas, and creating preventable disruptions in the energy supply chain that leave Americans without power when they need it most.
Environmental expectations need to be based on proven, not prospective, technologies with flexible timelines for broad adoption. Access to investment and capital for new technologies should be based on financial merit, not allegiance to woke ESG standards from the Left. We also should be focused on what works, rather than demonizing certain energy sources; the USA leads the world in reducing all manner of emissions, including greenhouse gasses, because of natural gas industry breakthroughs as well as the broader integration of pollution control technologies.
Americans are looking for solutions that will improve the environment without sacrificing independence, personal responsibility, or economic opportunity. Such an approach will create opportunities for thriving communities full of healthy, purpose-driven people.
Ultimately, Americans want to support an environmental movement that can make a difference and improve life on our planet.
It’s really not important if the leaders of this movement are Republicans or Democrats. But we need better than a political stalemate on these issues, where Democrats advance heavy-handed big-government actions, and Republicans simply say no. Constructive ideas with proven technologies create an outlook that balances better environmental possibilities while meeting the vital energy needs of today — and tomorrow.
Mandy Gunasekara is the director of IWF’s Center for Energy and Conservation. She is the former chief of staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and majority counsel in the U.S. Senate.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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