A climate change message tailor-made for Conservatives

The idea of ​​a “conservative environmentalist” has become something of an oxymoron, because for years conservatives and Republicans have been strangers to the environmental movement. But now, in the year 2022, some conservatives may begin to rethink their positions, including young people and some prominent public intellectuals. For Liberals looking to cross the proverbial aisle, the Conservatives may finally be ready, but messaging is going to be key.

Much of the right-wing antagonism toward environmental causes boils down to the anti-capitalist sentiments often espoused by environmentalists, combined with their primarily state-run solutions. Indeed, some even see the rise of the modern environmentalist movement as having its roots in the fall of communism in the late 1980s, making environmentalism a sort of substitute for the discredited old Marxist ideology.

One right-wing commentator who has rethought his stance on climate change is Bret Stephens. Stephens is a former writer for the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, who was hosted at The New York Times
in 2017. One of his first articles for The Times sparked a storm of controversy because it seemed to downplay the dangers associated with global warming. In recent years, he has changed his mind, saying that climate change is actually a big problem and deserves more attention.

It’s easy to say, “Hey Stephens, stop flattering your new New York Times bosses,” but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. Stephens’ approach is thoughtful and pragmatic. He wants to base climate policy on sound risk assessment and cost-benefit principles, not on emotions and catastrophic hysteria.

This approach makes sense. However, Stephens’ messaging isn’t perfect either. This might appeal to hyper-rational libertarians. But most people, even the smartest, prefer to connect on a more human level. This might help explain why rational data points, like the fact that the seven hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015 (which hardly seems like a coincidence), have so far had little influence. conservatives.

Republicans have earned a reputation for being anti-science, but this labeling is counterproductive. All he did was create bad blood between left and right on climate change. What many conservatives ultimately want is to have a two-way conversation in which they are treated like adults. And they want a message that includes a bit of hope from a messenger who isn’t afraid to be real with them either.

One problem with messages to conservatives is that they can come across as condescending. Take a 2021 study that looked at Republican reactions to different climate-related ads. The study found that focusing on national security implications, or the connection between faith and the environment, appeals to some Republicans, for example.

It’s easy to think of other areas where the messages might also resonate: climate change has implications for hunters, who care about the environment but may not call themselves conservationists, and the economic costs for climate change companies could also be important.

One problem with this kind of research is that curators don’t want to be “studied” like some sort of pachyderm on their way to the elephant graveyard. They would rather persuaded on substance and on the issues that matter most to them.

Conservatives also care about the environment, but they tend to be skeptical of revolutionaries who seek to overthrow conventional society on the basis of new-age religion. And, let’s be honest, a lot of environmentalists present themselves that way. So there will have to be a courtship between Liberals and Conservatives. Like a Shakespeare play, romance can take a while to develop. But unlike Romeo and Juliet, there’s no reason this love story shouldn’t end well.

But for that to happen, it will take compromise on all sides. Consider, for example, that there are green parties in Europe that are pro-environment, but also have a moderate stance on the economy, emphasizing economic efficiency and development. Can you imagine the US Green Party taking a similar approach?

Conservatives are more likely to engage with those willing to talk about the economy in a way that promotes business rather than demonize it. Take economist Tyler Cowen, whose book “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero,” takes the unusual step of doing exactly what the title implies: writing a love letter to business. It seems completely out of place in a culture where corporations are often portrayed as bad guys.

Cowen defies the norm. More often than not, what conservatives receive are reprimands, including from some who previously identified as right-wing. A good example is Jerry Taylor, alumnus of the Cato Institute and the Niskanen Center. Taylor made a name for himself as a global warming denier who later changed his mind. Except that, rather than trying to persuade Tories, he instead used his new platform to berate them. Taylor was a false god, and his petty tactics ultimately led to his downfall (he was later embroiled in a domestic abuse scandal).

A better approach is that of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). It is a group of young activists with an optimistic message that is both pro-environment and pro-capitalism. The “conservation” in their name is a double meaning. That is, the band is politically conservative but also focuses on environmental conservation. Groups like ACC show that, unlike many older conservatives, clean energy is not anathema to the younger generation of conservatives. Moreover, the CCA’s message is in favor of economic growth, a far cry from the “death by a thousand cuts” regulatory solutions proposed by the mainstream environmental movement.

For environmentalists, all this waiting for conservatives to join their mission is frustrating. Those who think “the end is near” do not want to wait. But as difficult as it may be, they should take a step back, breathe and look for opportunities to find common ground. The clock is not about to strike midnight yet. We have a little time before the earth turns into a giant metaphorical pumpkin.

Appealing to conservatives – or anyone with strong political beliefs – is a delicate balancing act. Too much rationality or too much criticism won’t work. In this regard, liberals can learn from the examples of both Stephens and Taylor.

If a consensus is to be built, a new positive message will have to take shape. Here, environmentalists can learn from Dale Carnegie and his classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Carnegie argued that being kind is often the best path to productive partnerships. If liberals really want to “marry” conservatives around environmental issues, a lasting coalition will have to be tied together with a smile. Like scientific facts, there is simply no avoiding this inconvenient truth.

Teresa H. Sadler