Looking ahead to 2021, we have to continue this momentum and turn activism and rhetoric into real action. As a lifelong conservative activist, I know firsthand how important activism is, but Americans are hungry for concrete progress on the issues they care about most.
Part of this equation is not focusing on top-down environmental solutions. As Americans, we’re incredibly lucky to live in a geographically diverse nation. Clean energy solutions that work in Washington state, like hydropower for instance, are simply not scalable in a landlocked state like Kansas. A localized approach to energy and other climate-related challenges is necessary to not only reduce emissions, but to improve and empower communities.
This strategy also makes climate action that much tangible for Americans and their communities. For many, climate change may feel far off — a less immediate threat than keeping a job and putting food on the table — but when solutions are put in action right in their backyards, environmental protection is that much more real. This could be a community solar project to reduce emissions and energy prices for low-income communities in Baltimore, or it could be reforestation by private landowners in rural Florida. These sorts of solutions may not always make headlines, but they are making a difference for everyday Americans.
For legislators on both sides of the political aisle this isn’t just talk, and localism isn’t an excuse for inaction at the federal level. There was significant bipartisan collaboration in the 116th Congress through bills like the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the BEST Act, the Trillion Trees Act and the USE IT Act. These pieces of legislation promote sustainable agriculture, battery storage innovation, natural climate solutions and carbon capture development. While no bill on its own will be a silver bullet solution to climate change, it’s crucial that members of both major parties are willing to come together and discuss targeted action for specific effects of climate change.
Importantly, each of the four aforementioned bills are originally cosponsored by Democrats, Republicans and even Independents in Congress. Especially with a looming divided government, no one party can pursue climate solutions alone. To accomplish real progress, Republicans need to continue to be increasingly willing to come to the table, and Democrats can no longer paint all members of the GOP as climate deniers.
As a country, we’ve made striking progress in the fight against climate change in recent years, but the job is far from over. We won’t agree on every solution, and there are still robust policy discussions to be had and localized action to be taken. Next year has the ability to be the year of climate action — but only if we let it.
Benji Backer is the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). Follow the organization on Twitter @ACC_National.