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Conservatives must wake up and address climate change — or face the voters’ wrath

After Australia voted out its conservative government in part over perceived lack of interest in climate change, American conservatives must put forward solutions to avoid a similar fate. Whether you think climate change is a hoax or an existential crisis, the voting public believes it is a critical issue that must be addressed.

This is a wake-up call for U.S. conservatives that we need not fear. We should take advantage of this opportunity to benefit working Americans while growing our economy. We have the best solutions — using markets and innovation, not government regulation. And caring for the environment is in our nature. By definition, conservatives believe in conserving the natural order, including the environment. We believe in good stewardship of our nation’s heritage and resources, both social and physical.

As a pro-life conservative, I feel a special burden to provide a healthy planet to babies in the womb. The right answer is not having fewer babies to save the planet. It is growing in such a way that we heal the planet. Economic growth is key to human flourishing and environmental improvement.  

We need growth in renewable energy but not by government mandates. While I was governor of Kansas, our production of electricity by wind went from 14th-best in the country to 5th. This happened while dropping mandates and protecting environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Kansas Flint Hills. We did it by recruiting private investors and providing a stable, business-friendly atmosphere.  

We must also free up investment in safe, carbon-free nuclear energy for base-load power generation. There has been one nuclear power plant built this century in the U.S. That is it. This fact must change for us to revitalize the clean energy backbone of our power grid. The way forward is to deregulate an overly regulated technology that already fuels most of our Navy.

Many Americans, and certainly conservatives, are deeply concerned when they see hugely expensive, radical and heavy regulatory approaches put forward to address climate concerns. But when they see few options or limited interest from conservatives, they think there is only one way to address the issue. We must get into this public debate and do so with sensible ideas that appeal to the American public.  

A way forward is balancing what I like to call “the three Es”: energy, the environment and the economy. We must meet these three needs without sacrificing any of them. 

Unfortunately, even tragically, the Biden administration has elevated the environment over energy and the economy, making it harder for the U.S. oil and gas industry. Since Biden entered office, his policies have contributed to record-high energy prices and inflation. Steep gas prices are a direct and painful hit to people’s pocketbooks. And this approach is not even best for the planet. Asking OPEC+ to increase production last year, instead of American producers, is worse for the environment — let alone our energy, economy and people. 

Conservatism, thankfully, offers a solution. We balance the three Es in a way that helps everyone. The path forward to lower emissions does not need to be one of pain and fewer people. British Conservatives put forward a climate package to move to a carbon-neutral world by 2050, using the tactics I am writing about. It is pro-growth, pro-working class, balanced and – most importantly – it works. That is the way to go.

A surging economy is essential for a sustainable environment. The free market’s innovation and growth unlocks energy technologies that will power the world to a near-term cleaner future at affordable prices.

To accomplish this vision, we must remove red tape that restricts the development and deployment of creative breakthroughs. That means streamlining regulations that delay renewable energy projects and impede advanced nuclear energy.

There is also still a role for American fossil fuels. U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe are much better for the environment than Russian gas exports, which are more than 40 percent higher-emitting than ours. In addition to liberating our allies from dependence on Russia, exporting LNG balances the three Es.

Liberals might say that this is all talk, and that conservatives have not actually done anything on climate. 

But that is false. We can indeed reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow the U.S. economy because we have already done so. Since 2005, the U.S. has lowered emissions more than the rest of the developed world put together. Our emission reduction happened primarily because of American business leadership, investment and ingenuity.

Plus, conservatives such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) championed a production tax credit for wind energy that made that business boom. Relicensing nuclear power plants also helped greatly. Conversely, China now emits more greenhouse gasses than the whole developed world.

Conservatives want to let the free market pick the cheapest and most reliable forms of clean energy. Exporting these innovations will dramatically improve quality of life and shrink the number of people who are in desperate need of electricity.

Major policy issues in the U.S., like climate change, are rarely solved – and never solved well – by only one political party. Serious solutions are the product of policy competition where each side puts forward their best ideas. The public then votes for the candidates who they believe provide the best path forward for the nation. 

This fall, climate concerns will be on the ballot. The British Conservatives proposed a legitimate plan for a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, and they were rewarded with the chance to realize that vision. Australian Conservatives were perceived by the public as lacking such a plan, contributing to their loss.  

Which path will American conservatives follow?

Sam Brownback is co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Summit and a senior fellow at Open Doors USA. He was U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom from 2018 to 2021. He previously served as governor of Kansas and as a U.S. senator.

Tags Australia Climate change Climate Change Conservatism in the United States environmental policy Liquid Natural Gas OPEC+ United Kingdom

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