After four years of President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE in the Oval Office, Joe BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE — a former U.S. Senator and vice president — was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States.
His inaugural address spoke of unity among the American people and various policy areas, including climate change, and before the sun set on Inauguration Day, he recommitted the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.
After four years of climate denial from the White House, we have an opportunity to make incredible progress in the fight against climate change. It’s important to note that despite the lack of leadership from the 45th president on this issue, congressional Republicans made incredible strides on climate. Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) paved the way for new freshmen Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) to make the environment a cornerstone of their 2020 campaigns. Rather than simply opposing something like the Green New Deal, these leaders didn’t shy away from joining the conversation and presenting alternative solutions.
With a new Democratic president in office, what is crucial here is that conservatives resist the urge to once again become obstructionists and, instead, continue to come to the table with our own perspective on tackling climate change. This knee-jerk reaction was on fully display after Biden’s signing of the Paris Agreement executive order. Elected Republicans decried the decision and many observed that their language didn’t reflect the progress our movement has made on climate change over the past few years.
To be clear, not being consistently obstructionist does not equate to betraying one’s values. In no circumstance should conservatives — in Congress or otherwise — kowtow to big government measures with countless pages and enormous price tags. The Paris Agreement itself is certainly flawed and should not be above criticism, but the fact remains that the United States must be present at global climate change talks.
Progressives often frame the climate conversation with the idea that we don’t have the time to wait. Well, the fact is we don’t have the time to wait for all nations to magically meet their Paris commitments. To truly rise to the occasion, we have to prioritize solutions that can actually be measured in tons of carbon, not retweets or shares or even signatures at the UN. In less than 30 days, the U.S. will once again be an official Paris signatory and our work will have just begun. To display true global climate leadership, we must prioritize innovation at home of exportable technologies that will lower not only our emissions, but emissions from other nations as well.
We have the opportunity for a fresh start now with the new 117th Congress and a new presidential administration. As I’ve written before, we have to put action over activism. Even more than that, we have to put action before scoring political points and obstructionism. Alarmism and denial are just the opposite sides of the same coin, and we can’t have real climate progress with either of them in the halls of Congress or the White House.
As conservatives, we must take the initiative to pull up a seat and demonstrate that we stand for something. We believe in anthropogenic climate change and we can address the environmental challenges we face without sacrificing fiscal conservatism or small government beliefs. During the 116th Congress, we proved this with increased engagement on energy innovation, natural solutions and even clean infrastructure. None of this is to say that the next four years will be easy or that policy victories will be won without a fight. But policy disputes will certainly be lost if we do not engage at all.
The term “unity” has been beaten nearly to death over the past month or so, and perfect unity is simply unattainable. The possibilities, however, when both sides commit to at least coming to the table and starting a conversation are endless. Yes, we as conservatives will have an uphill battle and will need to push back against the progressive climate agenda. Nevertheless, it’s time to commit to having the conversation and get to work.
Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).