Jensen: Why conservative climate leadership is needed

By Sarah Jensen | Guest Columnist

New findings from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Futures suggest that by embracing a conservative approach to climate change, one that is pro-American and pro-innovation, the Republican Party can win over voters and ensure a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans.

Specifically, the report found that the number of American voters concerned about climate change is becoming an increasing majority and that views on climate change were one of the strongest predictors of pro-Democratic voters in the 2020 general election, especially among Independents and younger generations.

The authors discovered that voters who stated climate change was somewhat or very important represented 67% of voters in the 2020 election, 77% of whom went on to vote for Joe Biden. Among Independents who believed climate change was very important, Joe Biden held a striking 72-point advantage. The report also highlighted that a quarter of Republicans concerned about climate crossed the aisle and voted for Joe Biden in 2020. Essentially, not only are we, as conservatives, losing Independents by not embracing a proactive environmental message, but we are losing voters in our own party.

While the data is clear that climate change is not the most important issue (in fact, it ranks pretty low on its own), the evidence does strongly indicate that voters are more inclined to trust candidates on other issues if they are strong on climate. Ceding this issue to the Left has given the Democratic Party a 26-point advantage on the issue and continuing to ignore climate and environmental issues could cost the Republican Party 0.5% of the vote each year going forward.

During the past few decades, some conservative leaders have asserted that any efforts to address our environmental challenges are inherently progressive. To some, uttering the words “climate change” or “clean energy” is simply incompatible with conservative values. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Conservatives can and must take the environmental narrative back from the Left to not only win over voters but to address climate in a way that puts America first and ensures economic prosperity. The Left’s approach to climate is wrong – and has contributed to increased energy prices and diminished energy security – but that doesn’t mean the issue should be off the table for conservatives to address. Conservatives have better solutions, and we must embrace them to counter the Left’s failed policies and stay electorally relevant.

Moreover, this resonates with the next generation of conservatives who are increasingly concerned about climate change. In a recent poll from the American Conservation Coalition, 79% of young conservatives felt addressing climate change was somewhat or very important and 76% supported shifting to cleaner energy sources. However, they want lawmakers to take action in a way that protects the environment while ensuring economic prosperity.

A conservative approach to our environmental challenges does just that. It embraces American innovation and an all-of-the-above energy approach that does not pick winners and losers. It cuts red tape, unleashes clean American energy, and empowers Americans on the ground to protect the places they know best – solutions that would do more to combat climate change and create economic opportunity than the Left’s out-of-touch, top-down mandate approach.

With the new findings from the University of Colorado Boulder, the Republican Party should see an opportunity to not only win over new voters but also take back environmental issues from the Left. This would be a win for the environment, our economy, and the future of the party.

Sarah Jensen is the policy associate with the American Conservation Coalition Action (ACC Action). She’s based in Boulder.