Opinion: Young Americans don’t want radical change on climate issues. They want balance
Most young adults believe we can grow the economy while protecting the environment. Politicians should take note
For those in environmental advocacy, it’s hard to understand why everyday Americans aren’t champing at the bit for climate action. Yet climate consistently ranks lower than Americans’ other priorities ahead of elections. Why? Mainstream environmental messaging.
According to Gallup, issues like COVID-19, poor leadership and even economic issues such as inflation rank much higher than the environment in 2022. Talk of radical change and government restructuring all in the name of climate change simply doesn’t resonate with the American people even if they are concerned about climate change and its associated effects. Instead, we want balance.
As I’ve written before, climate solutions must be profitable in order to be embraced. Of course, we should prioritize environmental protection and real action on climate, but it’s unrealistic for mainstream environmentalists to think they will garner more support from Americans by telling them the only way to address climate change is to upend their way of life. Efforts to ban natural gas outright and suggestions that coal workers can simply learn to build solar panels are not examples of consensus-building.
Recent polling done by my organization, the American Conservation Coalition, demonstrates that a majority (52%) of Americans ages 18-30 believe “A balance can be struck between protecting the environment and growing the economy at the same time.” Embracing this sentiment, rather than sending the message that climate requires requires huge government policies or bust, is the right way forward in gaining more support for commonsense climate action.
What does balance look like in practice? It means returning to the local level by empowering farmers and ranchers to naturally sequester carbon through sustainable and regenerative practices. Legislation such as the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a fiscally responsible bill that lowers barriers to entry into agricultural carbon markets, is a way that Congress could be involved in this solution.
It also means providing the right incentives to innovative companies so they can further develop and deploy breakthrough climate solutions. Companies like NuScale are retrofitting retired coal plants to produce nuclear energy, and electric vehicle companies such as Tesla and Rivian are revolutionizing transportation in this country. The Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act is another important example of legislation that would create a technology neutral tax credit for innovative energy solutions.
It’s easy for critics to focus on the fact that legislation like this won’t single-handedly solve climate change. It’s human nature to want a quick fix. The fact is, though, that when faced with the cost of sweeping government initiatives to fight climate change, Americans do not want to pay the cost. On the other hand, bills such as these are targeted investments in a cleaner future. That’s what Americans want.
With the November midterms rapidly approaching, politicians should remember that Americans want lower prices at the pump and grocery store, not radical economic restructuring to combat climate change. They want to work toward a cleaner future for their children and grandchildren, not 100% renewable energy overnight.
There’s a balanced way forward, and it’s the job of environmentalists to clearly show that way forward to the American people.
Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition and is a Deseret News contributor.