Urban environmentalism has failed — it’s time for new perspective

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At the start of Biden’s presidency, he signed an executive order promising to protect 30 percent of American land and water by the year 2030. 

Last week, congressional Democrats and Republicans sent separate letters asking for the administration for clarity on the implementation of this promise. The 30×30 goal is admirable and important for environmental protection, but its execution has the potential to shine light on the divide between urban and rural environmentalism. 

For decades, the term “environmentalist” has been associated with urban activists marching in city streets, holding signs that demand the abolition of fossil fuels. The fact is urban environmentalism has failed us. Urbanites prescribe climate solutions from ivory towers while rural Americans have the most to lose.

In the past few years, the Green New Deal and similar policy has dominated the climate change conversation. Unless you agree that we have less than 12 years to completely solve our environmental challenges, your views are largely dismissed by progressive climate hawks. That said, the Green New Deal — since its rise to fame in early 2019 — has done nothing to reduce emissions. It never will because it will never realistically pass both chambers of Congress and earn a presidential signature. For the record, even if the legislation were to defy all odds, we don’t need an economic restructuring to solve climate change. Instead, we need a new climate perspective.

Although I was raised in Wisconsin, I currently live in Seattle — one of the urban communities that often overlooks the concerns of middle America (and even the middle of its own state). Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is lauded as a climate champion in progressive circles, but it only takes a brief glance at his record to see that it’s all talk and no action. Meanwhile, Americans in the middle of the country are putting climate solutions to action. I saw this firsthand while traveling the country this fall in places like Louisiana, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

These important American communities — and specifically rural communities — have been left behind in all the talk of ambitious net-zero emission goals and the Green New Deal. Rural Americans, often farmers, ranchers or outdoorsmen interact with our natural environment in a meaningful way each and every day. Unlike urban communities, which rightfully care about the health of our planet but remain detached from its realities, these Americans have firsthand experience of conserving land and wildlife. Yet, they haven’t led the charge on environmental issues for years. This must change.

It’s all too easy for us conservatives to throw our hands up and lament the state of the climate conversation. It’s all too easy to give up and allow talks to continue to be dominated by the loudest, angriest voices in the room. In fact, there’s even a name for this tendency. But, we simply can’t give into that temptation. We can’t deny that climate change is a problem because we don’t like the progressive solutions being peddled.

No, instead, we should look at this as an incredible opportunity to reclaim what being an environmentalist means. Environmentalism means standing up for local communities and stakeholders who know best how to solve the issues in their backyards. American environmentalism means putting our nation first and using our incredible history of ingenuity and innovation to set an example for the rest of the world.

We need a new environmental perspective. We need rural Americans’ voices to be amplified in the conversation. If we don’t take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of this conversation, we will continue to be taken advantage of by urban environmentalists in activism, the Democratic politicians who represent them in elections and other nations on the global stage.

Benji Backer is the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

Tags 30 by 30 initiative climate action Climate change Environmentalism environmentalist Green New Deal Jay Inslee Joe Biden Rural communities urban communities urbanites
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