Americans are frustrated. Some were frustrated with Obama; some are frustrated with Trump. Some are frustrated with both. Americans are frustrated with a lot of things in government, up-and-down, side-to-side — frustrated with local government, state government, Congress, the federal courts, the executive branch. All of that anger, disappointment, and frustration has made for a bitter, acerbic, and downright virulent political scene. Politics already is a deeply personal characteristic, so it necessarily gets frayed when it’s played out in public. Issues that could easily be bipartisan, like education and the environment, are cast into the middle of a tug-of-war.
However, conservative environmentalism may start to bring people from both sides back together. When asked whether the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment, Americans from both parties in the mid-90s and early 2000s seemed to agree that the country should protect the environment. Fast forward 20 years or so, and the gap more than doubles from 14 percentage points to 38 percentage points.
Republican leadership on issues surrounding the environment has been sorely lacking, especially considering most conservatives prioritize other political issues. With millennials, however, that’s not the case. 76 percent of millennials believe they’re more concerned about the environment than their parents’ generation, according to a 2014 poll.
In utilizing conservative ideas — especially the free market — to tackle environmental issues and by opening up the discussion, conservative environmentalism reels in many Republican and right-leaning millennials that, up until this point, felt like the environment was cast aside by those on the right. It has the ability to unite college campuses in common goals and create the push to get the policy ball rolling and government acting in the right direction. College campuses are the birthplace of ideas and remain a major driver of America’s future, and by providing conservative students the platform to both chime in to the environmental conversation and seize territory lost in the 21st century’s rife politics, students will make America’s future better politically, economically, and intellectually.
In fact, conservation was a hallmark of the 20th century GOP, beginning with Roosevelt and ending, at least on a large scale, with Nixon. Roosevelt created 53 wildlife refuges during his presidency and designated national monuments, while Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and signed bipartisan legislation concerning the environment. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) all drew support from both sides, with the ESA and NEPA unanimously approved by the Senate and approved by sweeping votes in the House, with greater than 96% of voting representatives affirming the bills.
It was only when the environment began to be painted as a ruthless enemy to liberty and private property (which, at times, it can be — when handled improperly or carelessly) that Republicans began to stray from their roots. It’s time Republicans renew their commitment to contribute constructively to crucial issues facing our nation — issues like energy efficiency, clean air and water, protecting private lands, preventing water shortage, and much more. We must invent a new approach to policies that have outlasted their relevancy. Conservatives often enjoy being the old-school pushback to change; we should broaden that enjoyment to the environment and embrace our 20th century spirit's relevance to the 21st century.