Pro-green conservative: GOP climate change messaging must match its pro-environment policies

"The five best states right now, in terms of fighting climate change, are led by Republican governors," said Benji Backer, founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition.

Updated: January 27, 2022 - 11:02pm

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Conservatives and the Republican Party must take back the climate change debate before it's too late politically, economically, and environmentally, warns the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition. 

Benji Backer, who started ACC after initially rising to national prominence for his support of then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's fight against the teachers unions nearly a decade ago, believes that conservatives must improve their messaging on environmental issues as they already have the solutions. 

"Conservatives live in areas that are incredibly beautiful," Backer told the John Solomon Reports podcast on Thursday's episode. "You look at the Midwest, the West Coast, the places that are red — Republican red — are the places that the environment is most beautiful. 

"We know how to take care of our land, we know how to take care of conservation. We're hunters, we're fishers, we love to hike, we love to bike, and we love to be outside. We love to farm. And that's part of who we are as people. It's not the, 'Oh, we're at the top of a New York City building talking about how much we love the environment.' We're actually in it ... living it and breathing it every single day.

"And we need to retake this conversation ... but because people like Al Gore politicized climate change in the early 2000s to win elections and made it about radical government policy that wasn't going to stand up for the majority of Americans, we made one key mistake when realistically going after them: We didn't provide an alternative."

Instead of playing defense, Backer argued, "we should have been stepping in and saying, 'Look, these are horrible ideas, but we have better ones because we care about this more than anyone else. And we know how to take care of it better than anyone else.'"

The conservative approach to environmental stewardship means "going back to the conservative values that we all know and love," Backer said. "It's about limited government, it's about fiscal responsibility. It's about job creation. It's about protecting America's interests, because America protects the environment better than anywhere else in the world. It's about improving technology, and ... entrepreneurs who come up with new ideas that can actually lower the cost of energy and clean up the environmental impact of energy at the same time."

Acknowledging that "our emissions from vehicles and energy use ... end up having an impact on our atmosphere," Backer said, "the Green New Deal is something that doesn't even help that — it doesn't help protect our environment. It's a complete economic takeover that is rooted in false climate talk."

But while "the Green New Deal would be disastrous for not only our economy, but also our environment," if it's "the only policy on the table, then we're going to lose that battle," he said.

Climate change is ranked among young people's top three political issues, Backer noted, regardless of which side of the political aisle they are on. 

"The Republican Party needs to get right on climate yesterday," he warned. "And if we don't get right on it as soon as possible, we are going to be in for a real tough heartbreak."

Republican performace on the issue contrasts favorably with the party's poor messaging, Backer suggested. "The five best states right now, in terms of fighting climate change, are led by Republican governors," he said, from moderates like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, to conservatives, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Backer cited nuclear power as the indispensable alternative in the transition to cleaner energy sources.

"[N]uclear energy is really the only way that you can reduce emissions quickly," he remarked. "And if you don't have nuclear energy, you can't do anything at all."

He said that "baseload power" is essential, meaning "you need to have a significant source of power across all different types of homes and all different types of businesses, and it has to be reliable," regardless of whether or not the sun is up, the wind is blowing, or water is flowing. 

While the upfront cost of nuclear energy is high, it eventually provides baseload power "as a very cheap alternative to other sources of energy" and is "one of the most affordable forms of energy in the world," Backer argued. "And it's actually proven to be the safest form of energy in terms of depth and impact out of any energy source — internationally, or here in the U.S."

The environmental community in America has perpetuated the myth that nuclear energy is unsafe, Backer said, which is why the U.S. hasn't really pursued nuclear energy technology. As a result, China, Russia, and other countries have surpassed the U.S. in the nuclear energy revolution. 

"America needs to lead the nuclear energy revolution, and if we don't, we're going to fall behind, and we're going to have energy sources that are outdated and worse for the environment," he warned. "Nuclear is a huge part of the answer."