Earlier this summer, I found myself in a hotel ballroom surrounded by conservative conservationists from all over the country. The American Conservation Coalition Summit was anecdotal proof that young conservatives want commonsense, effective environmental solutions.
In recent years, there has been a flood of polls showing that millennial and Gen Z conservatives prioritize environmental issues significantly more than their older counterparts. In late 2022, for instance, Pew Research Center found that 73% of Republicans ages 18–39 think climate change is a serious problem. After November’s election, young voters preferred candidates who prioritized “immediate action on climate change” by a ratio of 4 to 1.
As the chairman of the Utah Federation of College Republicans, I’ve seen this shift firsthand. Especially here in Utah, we see environmental challenges each and every day, from the shrinking of the Great Salt Lake to air quality concerns across the state to wildfires that threaten our homes. Young conservatives — the future of the movement — recognize that these challenges will not go away on their own, and we want real solutions. This is, in part, why Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, founded the Conservative Climate Caucus in 2021, and immediately, every member of the Utah congressional delegation joined the caucus to show support for commonsense policy that bolsters our economy and protects our environment.
Unfortunately, the Conservative Climate Caucus was so needed because the mainstream environmental movement as it stands has been ineffective. Legacy environmental groups have long alienated conservatives like me with their alarmist language and demands to completely divest from traditional energy sources such as natural gas and oil. As Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., said at the ACC Summit, “Nobody gets to own the term ‘environmentalist.’” After all, traditionally conservative constituencies like farmers, ranchers and hunters are some of our country’s oldest and most effective environmentalists.
In addition to the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus, conservatives have shown real leadership on environmental issues over the past few years. In Congress, Republicans have highlighted important challenges to our clean energy future, such as insecure supply chains of crucial raw materials. Currently, the world relies on China for upward of 90% of the critical minerals we need for clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and even nuclear energy reactors. This reliance on China for both our energy and military needs is frankly irresponsible of our nation. Securing those supply chains either domestically or with allies will be crucial as we work to reduce emissions.
Additionally, according to a 2022 Gallup poll, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to support clean, reliable nuclear energy. Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate with a nuclear engineering degree, joined the ACC Summit to champion the energy source. Nuclear reactors generate emission-free energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and contrary to popular belief, nuclear energy is one of the safest energy sources we have at our disposal. In fact, Madi Hilly, a nuclear energy advocate, posed with properly-stored nuclear waste while 27 weeks pregnant to prove that nuclear waste is not the threat we’ve been led to believe.
The moral here is that young conservatives, like myself, are incredibly encouraged by the work that elected conservatives from Utah are doing to protect our environment and the future of our country. I’ve personally been very inspired by the work that Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore — as well as the rest of the Utah congressional delegation — have done to show that environmental conservation is a truly conservative value. Young conservatives in Utah and beyond have the Conservative Climate Caucus’s back because it’s a future-looking effort that not only wins over new voter blocs, but is the right thing to do.
Ryan Smith is the chairman of the Utah Federation of College Republicans and attended the second annual American Conservation Coalition Summit in Salt Lake City this June.