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Three nonpartisan climate solutions that receive conservative support: 'Don't think we agree on anything? Think again...'

Eyebrows always rise when I tell people I'm a conservative environmentalist, but the reality is that there are many of us.

Eyebrows always rise when I tell people I'm a conservative environmentalist, but the reality is that there are many of us.

Photo Credit: Benji Backer

Eyebrows always rise when I tell people I'm a conservative environmentalist, but the reality is that there are many of us.

In 2019, 82% of 18- to 35-year-olds polled by the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) indicated that climate change is important to them, including 77% of right-leaning and 90% of independent respondents. 

Many rural, conservative Americans whose hometowns are among regenerative farms, sustainable agriculture, and land conservancies see caring for the environment as a natural way of life. Further, some of the most climate-friendly states, including Indiana, New Hampshire, and Georgia, boast some of the highest rates of pollution reductions in the country and are led by Republican governors.

I've made it my mission to alleviate people's fears about the notion of a climate catastrophe so that conversations about climate can become less focused on reactive rhetoric and more on productive solutions. 

Don't think we agree on anything? Think again. Here are three solutions with widespread bipartisan support — that could make a big difference. 

🥕 Reducing food waste 

Did you know that reducing food waste is the fastest way to lower carbon pollution right now?

A whopping 6% to 8% of global carbon emissions come from food waste. In comparison, passenger vehicles (which hold far more of our focus) emit nearly the equivalent, at 10.8%. In essence, tackling food waste would nearly equate to the impact of moving to zero-emissions passenger vehicles.

The largest contributor to food waste — about 37% — happens at home. Fortunately, there are things we can do to make a big difference, from shopping and cooking smarter, to freezing or sharing leftovers, to composting. 

The 28% of food waste that occurs in restaurants, school cafeterias, and grocery stores could also be curbed by practices such as limiting self-serve buffets and participating in food recovery programs and soup kitchens. As consumers, we can also choose to shop at grocery stores that have committed to reducing food waste and are transparent about their progress. 

♨️ Geothermal: The dark horse of clean energy 

This little-talked-about energy works by harnessing the heat originating at the Earth's core as hot water flows up through porous rock, picking up heat energy that turns into steam along the way. If you've ever seen a geyser erupt or taken a soak in a hot spring, you've experienced this naturally occurring phenomenon. 

The amount of available geothermal energy beneath our feet is estimated to amount to 50,000 times more than the global total of oil and gas combined. That's a whole lotta heat right below our feet!

The benefits of geothermal energy production are obvious. Heat flowing from the Earth's core is continually replenished by the natural decay of radioactive elements, so it is the definition of renewable and 100% domestically sourced. Unlike solar and wind farms, geothermal plants can run 24/7 and are not dependent on weather conditions. Geothermal plants also use far less land and water than coal, wind, and solar stations and create no greenhouse gases. 

Although geothermal energy has (for the most part) managed to stay a politically neutral topic in the climate change conversation thus far, it's most likely a matter of time before political divisiveness asks people to pick sides. As young innovators, thinkers, and voters, it's up to us to learn more about new technologies like geothermal and, in turn, help educate others on their benefits and drawbacks.

⛽ Helping oil and gas communities transition to the clean economy

In October 2022, along with two other members of the ACC team, I decided to visit Midland, Texas, where much of our country's oil and gas comes from. 

As some Midland residents expressed to me, oil and gas workers feel vilified by the same people that their industry has ushered toward prosperity over the past century. They acknowledged the need for cleaner energy and expressed their desire to be a voice at the table; instead, they feel completely shut out of the climate policy conversation. It's no wonder we could feel the community's visceral prickliness at having environmentalists on their turf. I knew enough to recognize that this response was nothing personal, but rather a measure of how far leadership still has to go to build a spirit of collaboration with the so-called "enemy." 

One way we can continue to bridge the gap between climate action and the fossil fuel industry is through creative incentives such as monetizing carbon, an idea economists and private companies have grappled with for years. Nori is a unique startup that combines climate action with cryptocurrency to create the world's first blockchain-based marketplace for carbon removal. Buyers are encouraged to first calculate their individual or business's carbon footprint to decide how much to invest. One NRT ("Nori Carbon Removal Tonne") token purchased represents 1 metric ton of CO2 removed and stored for a minimum of 10 years.

We can also help oil and gas workers apply their skills and infrastructure toward cleaner energy solutions like geothermal, which has a 1-1 job ratio for existing fossil fuel workers, and build renewables on oil and gas lands (part of a bipartisan congressional proposal currently under debate). 

🤝 P.S.: Conservatives don't totally hate the IRA 

While not perfect, the IRA, which included a $369 billion investment in climate and energy policies, marked the largest investment in U.S. history to fight climate change. The Act intends to reduce emissions by 40% by the year 2050 and provides countless grants, direct subsidies, and tax breaks for projects and businesses in clean energy, manufacturing, and innovation. 

Additionally, the IRA is expected to create 67,000 new jobs — and over $32 billion of new investment — in traditionally conservative, rural areas. While these communities have been (understandably) hesitant to embrace the IRA due to its partisan aura, the implementation will be a massive long-term win for communities that desperately need one.

The greatest potential of incentive programs (like the IRA) lies in their ability to drive down costs of new clean energy technologies — and encourage widespread adoption for people of all income brackets.

This type of government support has also given private investors more confidence in climate tech–related businesses, meaning venture capital dollars will flow more freely into the green energy space. The IRA also includes better standards and labeling requirements for products declaring a pro-climate impact, adding transparency to consumer decision-making. 

Benji Backer is the author of The Conservative Environmentalist: Common Sense Solutions for a Sustainable Future and the founder of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), the largest right-of-center environmental organization. 

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