Republicans Must Act on Climate: Our Party and Future Are At Stake

Kiera O'Brien

It is the beginning of month five of the ongoing pandemic and two in three Americans remain worried about exposure to the COVID-19 virus. However, the next preventable crisis already looms in American minds, with two in three registered voters worried about climate change. While American attitudes toward the pandemic have led to massive behavioral and societal changes, they have generated little more than talk when it comes to the climate threat. Like the pandemic recovery efforts, all Americans have a stake in the success of climate action and young Republicans are ahead of their Party in recognizing this reality.

"Like the pandemic recovery efforts, all Americans have a stake in the success of climate action..."

I came to the issue of climate as an unlikely ally. I'm 22 years old, born and raised in oil-rich Alaska and a lifelong Republican. Growing up in the early 2000s, my concept of an environmentalist was an older man in a suit, probably a Democrat, like Vice President Al Gore. This image did not seem applicable to me or my life, because I didn't understand what was at stake. As an Alaskan, I spent much of my childhood outdoors, hunting, fishing, and hiking. My entire middle school science curriculum was geared toward learning to live off the land in survival situations. I know how to make a shelter, what plants and animals are safe to eat, and how to survive in the unforgiving environment I call home. To say I have reverence for nature is an understatement. However, I didn't understand my duty to actively work to slow the planet's warming until I left my home state for college. After leaving Alaska, I became increasingly aware of the threat presented by climate instability and increasingly concerned with preserving not only the wild environment I call home but that of the world at large.

"I came to the issue of climate as an unlikely ally. I'm 22 years old, born and raised in oil-rich Alaska and a lifelong Republican."

I founded Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD) last year based on conversations I'd had with peers similarly frustrated by the lack of effective climate policy solutions on the right. Co-founded by 30 top leaders of the College Republican National Committee -- Chairs and Vice Chairs of the state federations -- YCCD advocates for a climate plan crafted by President Reagan's right-hand men, James Baker and George Shultz. The former Secretaries of State and Treasury created the Carbon Dividends plan to both reflect their conservative values and protect America from the threat posed by climate change. As young Republican leaders, we believe this plan is the way forward for our Party. Climate instability is a growing threat to the American way of life -- with effects already being felt -- particularly in rural America; and this threat is of growing concern to young Republicans like myself.

"Over half of Republican voters under the age of 40 are more concerned about climate change than they were in 2018, and are 'very or extremely' concerned about our Party's stance on climate change."

While my advocacy for emissions reductions may seem out of step with the current state of the Republican Party nationally, I'm right in line with conservatives of my generation. Over half of Republican voters under the age of 40 are more concerned about climate change than they were in 2018, and are "very or extremely" concerned about our Party's stance on climate change. This indicates the need for the Republican Party to evolve its positioning. If the Party fails to heed the concerns of its younger generation they risk losing it all together.

"If the Party fails to heed the concerns of its younger generation the risk losing it all together...durable policy must have bipartisan backing...Our future, both polically and literally, depends on it."

Until this leadership vacuum is filled by our elders, young conservatives will have to lead the way. As this time of great polarization has shown, durable policy must have bipartisan backing. In addition to the hard work young conservatives are already doing, we also need to push our elders to do their part in securing our future. It's time for the Republican Party to step up to the plate with climate solutions. Our future, both politically and literally, depends on it.