President BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is now officially law. Like the current economic crisis that the package aims to alleviate, climate change also demands immediate, system-wide transformation.
The harrowing stories out of Texas last month are a stark reminder that climate-induced chaos is no respecter of party affiliation. Cushioning the blow of these impacts and building resiliency against future catastrophe is going to take something extraordinary in today’s political climate: working together.
Many will wave this away as impossibly naive. Views regarding the reality of climate change are simply too polarized. Among those who accept the reality of a changing climate, the distance between those advocating for a Green New Deal and those in favor of market-driven, innovation-based solutions is too far to bridge.
Yet the distance may be closer than most people think. Since 2012, more than 3 million self-described pro-life evangelicals — motivated to defend the unborn and to honor the Bible’s call to care for the Earth — have called for 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, five years earlier than President Biden’s current target.
Similarly, top Republican pollsters have their eye on a generational schism within the party on the issue of climate change. Nearly three-quarters of Republican voters believe that the GOP is losing young voters by failing to address climate change. These concerns are reflected by the numbers too. A majority of Republicans aged 18 to 38 believe the government is doing too little to address climate change, with 78 percent saying the U.S. should prioritize alternative energy.
Some may argue that our time is too short to be wasted on consensus-building. While we agree that we cannot sacrifice speed while we wait for a total consensus that is unlikely to emerge, we also believe there are significant dangers in ignoring the task of building broad policy buy-in. From the Civil Rights Act, to the Endangered Species Act, to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to putting a man on the moon, some of our most enduring policy achievements this century are the result of bipartisan collaboration.
In contrast, the legal battles that continue to engulf the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 11 years on, and the anger still simmering over the party line passage of the Trump tax cuts — both of which utilized the budget reconciliation process to circumvent the minority party — are cautionary tales for those who would seek to enact economy and society-wide policy quickly. The lesson is clear: build broad, diverse support as early as possible in order to inoculate it against the winds of political change.
There’s a reason most don’t heed this lesson. It’s hard. And our bitter partisan polarization makes it almost impossible. While it may be hard, it’s also not rocket science. An openness to diverse opinions and ideas, comfort with nuance, a heavy dose of humility and an eagerness to forge common cause with uncommon allies can all pull us back from the brink and back toward something resembling a healthy, productive body politic. Braver Angels is working to depolarize Americans generally, and World War Zero and Far Middle — with each of which we both make occasional common cause — are intentionally bipartisan efforts to do the same on the issue of climate change. These efforts are important steps in the right direction.
Others will make the case that a bigger, more diverse climate movement will invariably mean more internal disagreements. We say good! After all, when did disagreement become a bad thing? Disagreement within large, diverse movements is how we identify each other’s blind spots and refine our ideas. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X opposed each other’s strategy and tactics in their mutual struggle for Black liberation, often vehemently. Yet their visions for Black America were consonant and they ultimately influenced each other in profound ways.
The climate movement is broad and deep. Yet it remains dominated by large environmental organizations and progressive activists. This makes sense. The history of conservative abdication and resistance in recent years has required these groups to carry much of the load, not to mention the precious time it has wasted and the incalculable damage it has caused to our planet. At the same time, conservatives, evangelicals and other unlikely climate advocates — many of us too young to have given our consent to our community’s abnegation on the issue in the first place — are ready to join the fight. If the larger climate movement can find the courage to join forces across differences and include diverging voices, strategies and tactics, we may all just find that as long as our ultimate aims align, our strength is precisely in our diversity.
The climate movement has made important progress over the last several years, and much more must be accomplished in order to avert climate change’s worst impacts and to fully unlock the economic promise of a clean energy future. To do that, the climate movement must erect a wholly bigger tent. We’re convinced we won’t have trouble filling it. After all, any mother who’s watched her child struggle to breathe, any angler interested in healthy fish populations and any homeowner looking to protect their home from climate-induced catastrophe has a reason to care about climate change.
As we raise this big tent, each segment of the movement will raise their own tent pole, reaching their respective communities as only they can. Rather than watering down our ambition in the name of consensus, a commitment to a rapid, economy-wide transition away from fossil fuels and climate justice for all must be the price of entry. Disagreements on how to get there will be aired in good faith and ideas will be honed and refined. Tactics and strategies will diverge, but our common aim will rhyme.
And maybe the history books still being written will tell the stories not of internal backbiting or partisan intransigence, but of an eclectic coalition of unlikely allies that took on the existential crisis of our generation and won and secured for themselves and generations to come a safer and healthier future.
Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap is vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Kiera O’Brien is the founder and president of Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends. Both are Public Voices fellows of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the OpEd Project.