Opinion

A Clean Recovery From COVID-19 Is Good Policy and Good Politics

Like thousands of Americans this month, I just graduated from college. Unlike many of them, I am fortunate enough to have a job waiting for me. I am one of the lucky ones.

It should surprise no one that my generation is fed up with politics as usual. Today, we face an economy paralyzed by a disjointed and partisan response to a pandemic. Tomorrow, we face the consequences of decades of inaction on climate change. Things look bleak right now, but there is an opportunity to act to address these twin crises.

The federal government’s response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has unleashed trillions of dollars into the economy — yet not a dollar has been targeted toward a sustainable recovery. Our goal is to change that. We are calling for clean capitalism — clean energy based on free-market principles — to be at the heart of any future economic response to COVID-19. We backed up this call with action by launching American Conservation Coalition Campus’ (ACC Campus) first-ever television ad — and put a considerable sum of money behind it.

Including environmental considerations into an economic recovery package is good policy and good politics. Tens of millions of people are unemployed and their jobs might never come back. But if we transition to a clean energy system today, we will create millions of jobs, spark the innovation we need to dig ourselves out of this recession, and spare future generations the astronomical costs of delaying climate action. In a poll we commissioned, we found that 79 percent of Republicans agree that their party should engage on the issue of climate change and promote effective, economically sound policies to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

And for young conservatives like me, this is one of the most important issues of our generation and we expect action from our elected leaders. This is an opportunity that conservatives cannot cede to liberals. These numbers should be a wake-up call for the conservative movement. Without some sort of meaningful action on climate change, there is a demographic time bomb ticking within the GOP.

We know the lack of progress toward a green recovery isn’t for the lack of ideas — it is because policymakers are more committed to fighting partisan battles than solving problems. Washington has been unable to act on the climate crisis because of a desire to push solutions that only appeal to one side. Democratic leaders in Congress — driven by radicals within their party — have rejected solutions that could attract bipartisan support in favor of highly partisan, command-and-control programs like the Green New Deal. But, so far, Republicans have been absent from the clean recovery discussion table. The GOP is missing an opportunity to lead on the climate, reclaim its historic position as the leading party on conservation and improve our economy and environment while expanding its electoral base.

While this partisanship is incredibly short-sighted, it is nothing new in the environmental movement. This obstinacy has plagued the fight against climate change for the better part of three decades. We’ve previously tried to find the silver bullet to fight environmental challenges but it hasn’t worked. We can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. That’s why incremental but meaningful action as part of our national economic recovery plan is the best way forward. Much of that action should be based on the framework laid out by our American Climate Contract. The contract calls for action that pushes for energy innovation, 21st century infrastructure, natural solutions and U.S. leadership on the world stage. These actions could be the pragmatic solutions we need to lock in progress today while fighting for more tomorrow.

Stalemate on the issue of climate change is not inevitable. We must push conservative lawmakers to take bold action and pursue an environmentally sustainable recovery that will promote economic prosperity and a cleaner future. Doing nothing is an existential threat to the livelihoods of future generations, who face job prospects wiped out by COVID-19 and the threat of climate change, jeopardizing the electoral viability of the conservative movement. The choices we make today will lock in our trajectory for decades to come. It’s time for conservatives to step up and lead.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition.

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