(WXMI) — From worsening fires in the dry West to eroding coastlines on the Great Lakes, climate change is impacting our nation’s landscape and our way of life. Over the past decade, tackling the issue has been a rally cry for progressives. For Republicans, not so much.
Why is something that’s affecting us all, so polarizing? Young conservatives argue it shouldn’t be.
“It's a galvanizing issue for our generation,” says Quill Robinson, VP of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition.
The ACC was founded in 2017 by millennial conservatives who wanted a seat at the “environmental table.”
“I look at the recent history where Republicans have been seen as adversaries to conservation as sort of an anomaly,” Robinson said. "I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the loudest voices in the room on issues like climate change, we're only calling for big government top-down solutions."
Young conservatives like Robinson are championing what they call a conservative approach to dealing with greenhouse gases and the growing climate problem. “That means investing in technologies like carbon capture,” Robinson explained, "investing in clean energy sources like wind and solar and nuclear, and ultimately fostering an economy where there's competition so that entrepreneurs -- the backbone of our economy -- have an incentive to create the sort of technologies that are going to create economic prosperity but also address these environmental issues that we're facing."
Their efforts are already seeing results in shifting the Republican party’s thinking and rhetoric.
On Earth Day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) released a GOP climate plan, something that would be unheard of just a few years ago. McCarthy dubbed it an “energy innovation agenda.”
It’s still unclear how much of a priority it will be moving forward, but young Republican lawmakers also see climate as an immensely important issue.
“When we have a state that's defined natural boundaries by bodies of water, when you have peninsulas that are constantly aware of the environment that defines them and also the importance to protect it and the benefit drives the economy. It's a very simple equation,” says U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids).
Meijer says it should, in part, define his party’s platform.
“I think it's really a return to roots,” Meijer said. "You go back and look at the foundation of the National Parks system, you look at Teddy Roosevelt and that conservation ethos, being appreciative for what we have, and making sure we protect that and grow for future generations of conservation. And that's a conservative idea."
“In a lot of ways, I think it's getting away from viewing the environment as something that is one side or the other, to something that literally surrounds all of us, that we have a vested interest in protecting and maintaining and growing,” Meijer added, "and something that, frankly, if we protect it today, it's going to be a heck of a lot cheaper than if we have to go back and work to clean it up tomorrow."
Earlier this year, Meijer was one of eight House Republicans to support the Protecting America's Wilderness and Public Lands Act.