No, Conservatives Shouldn’t Make Environmental Policy a Priority

As I wrote earlier this week, the Democratic Party is accomplishing what the Republican Party—conservatives in particular—failed to do for more than two decades: Exposing the general public to the radical, authoritarian, and wholly unrealistic agenda lurking behind the facade of the climate change movement.

The Green New Deal betrayed the climate crusade’s outlandish demands in its starkest, darkest terms yet, and a seven-hour climate change “town hall” on CNN this month featured Democratic presidential hopefuls promising everything from abortion and plastic straw bans to government-ordered veganism as solutions to halt supposed climate change. Democratic candidates promise to become more dystopian on this issue as they head into the heart of the 2020 campaign season.

So, presented with this gift, it is no time for Republicans and conservatives to take the boot off the throat of the collective climate propaganda machine.

That’s why I have a quibble with my publisher and pal, Chris Buskirk, over his recent missive encouraging conservatives to put environmental policy toward the top of our to-do list: “We’ve avoided making the environment a political priority for decades and the country is worse for it,” Buskirk wrote. “Conservatives should embrace this issue. It’s a chance to do good and to do well.”

In another time, I might partially agree with Buskirk’s sentiment. But not at this political moment.

Before anyone brands me as the female version of Montgomery Burns on this subject, I have written extensively about “ecomodernism,” a unique fusion of pro-nature and pro-capitalism principles to better the environment. I’ve interviewed activists from Michael Shellenberger to Matt Ridley; in 2016, I spoke at an environmental conference in California about how conservatives can advance common sense environmental policies.

Much of my advocacy of genetically-engineered crops centers around their environmental benefits; conversely, my coverage of the organic food scam has exposed the industry’s overall detrimental impact on the environment. On a personal note, I live in a Chicago suburb with abundant green space and, when the weather permits, I’d much rather be outside jogging, biking, or playing tennis than indoors on a treadmill.

A Limited-Time Only Opportunity

But the beauty of the Trump era is that it offers a unique—and fleeting—opportunity to bulldoze well-worn canards on the Left and the Right: From trade to immigration to China to foreign war, millions of Americans are taking an overdue and skeptical look at the assurances made to us by the ruling class.

Climate-change dogma, which has been pushed by the Left with feeble resistance from the Right, is also under a strong public microscope thanks to folks such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Conservatives, including lawmakers, think tanks, and pundits, need to seize this moment without distraction. Offering any kind of alternative environmental agenda that ultimately requires some sort of federal backing would waste precious political capital with little to gain.

First, conservation efforts are best carried out and properly remain the purview of state, county, and local entities. This is where Republicans and conservatives can, and do, make a difference without any directive from Washington, D.C. Suburban communities, mostly run by Republicans for the past three decades, have done a much better job than urban Democrats at preserving open space while balancing growth and nature.

For example, the Chicago Park District operates 8,800 acres of green space. DuPage County, just west of the city and home to one-third of the population of Chicago, operates more than 25,000 acres of parkland. I’m not sure how private initiatives to “create and expand youth organizations that get kids out into nature and teach them to understand and appreciate the natural world as well as independence and self-reliance,” as Buskirk suggested, could be backed by conservatives without some federal imprimatur. (But I’m open to more specifics because I support that conceptually.)

A Better Story to Tell

Second, the environment scores extremely low on the list of concerns of Republican voters. In a Reuters poll released this week, only two percent of registered Republicans named the environment as a major problem facing the country. Further, just 8 percent of registered voters said the environment is a major problem; immigration and health care ranked twice as high.

So it’s unclear that encouraging Republican candidates to make the environment a priority would indeed, as Buskirk wrote, be a “political winner.” I have serious doubts.

Yes, young people consider protecting the environment an urgent matter. But as Steven Pinker carefully detailed in his book, Enlightenment Now, by every measure, including the environment, conditions are far better now than in the past. Conservatives should tell a more uplifting tale about how American innovation has made the planet better, not worse.

This would include burying the utter nonsense that somehow a future energy grid completely powered by renewables such as wind and solar is realistic. Conservatives have a duty forcefully to dispute that proposal on scientific, economic and environmental grounds: Even leading climate scientists have rejected claims about the feasibility of a 100 percent renewable future.

It all comes down to one key question: Which approach will be more politically advantageous for Republicans next year—continuing to hammer the blatant lies told by climate propagandists in an attempt to reverse some of the climate brainwashing or proposing an environmental agenda of our own?

Buskirk argues that conservatives can do both; he is more optimistic than I am on that score. Given the limited bandwidth and political courage of most Republican lawmakers (think Mitt Romney), I doubt they are capable of razing the climate change movement and advocating clean oceans at the same time. In fact, I think nearly all would hide behind the latter to avoid the former.

I concede, however, that this is a debate worth having. Buskirk appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program Tuesday night and Carlson enthusiastically agreed with Buskirk, as I assume plenty of people on the Right do as well.

But Americans finally are getting a close look at what a future controlled by climate freaks would really look like—and they are justifiably alarmed. In my view, conservatives should focus only on drawing attention to the Left’s plans while telling the truth about the safety, health, and clean future of the planet. We might not get this chance again.

About Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly is a political commentator and senior contributor to American Greatness. She is the author of Disloyal Opposition: How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President. Her past work can be found at The Federalist and National Review. She also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, and Genetic Literacy Project. She is the co-host of ‘Happy Hour podcast with Julie and Liz.’ She is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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