An Honest Review Of The American Conservation Coalition: Part 1

Conservatism and Environmentalism Are NOT Mutually Exclusive

Disappointingly, most conservative Republicans do not believe in anthropocentric climate change.  According to a previous article titled “The Conservative Case for Conservation”, only 40% of conservative Republicans believed in climate change and only 26% believed that climate change is linked to human activity.

Despite credible evidence from climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), there is a partisan gap when we think, discuss, and read about our ecosystem. This does not mean that Republicans are not proponents of environmental stewardship, rather the statistics gathered by Yale University in 2018 indicate conservative Republicans are misinformed about their own environmental history.

What is Conservative Environmental History?

In the 20th century, Republicans laud Reagan like Democrats laud Kennedy.  With the exception of William F. Buckley Jr., President Reagan reached the zenith of influence among conservatives, yet most cannot recall his environmental stance. With just a cursory Google Search it appears the last article about Reagan’s environmental stance is by the Weekly Standard in 2013 -- approximately 6 years ago.

Despite various embattlements of the conservative Reagan Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the IPCC was developed as a compromise between two competing beliefs.  The ideological locking of horns, if you will, is an old engagement between realism and liberalism that still influences military intervention debates in the halls of the Capitol and within the illustrious Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Simply put, Reagan’s Administration bolstered U.S. scientists to key positions on the IPCC.  In exchange for participating in the United Nations, U.S. scientists were able to influence foreign powers, communal legislative bodies, and other intergovernmental organizations.  Further, meteorological data was shared amongst those foreign powers along with best practices, honest diplomacy, and the occasional drink. As a result, scientific bodies were able to provide legislators with assessments of “socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change and options for adapting to it.”  Clearly, this is a boon to policymakers and instrumental for the 90 member Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives.

How Does This Environmental History Relate to Contemporary Conservatives?

Typically, media outlet headlines are dominated by mainstream policy debates ranging from social security solvency to who committed which crime to the role of government in anything.  Rarely, environmental issues of today are discussed with importance. Instead, disdain despite the rich history rooted in traditionalism is commonplace.  Even worse than not having the conversation is to provide non-sequitur analysis that can be characterized as, perhaps, purposefully deceitful rhetoric.  It’s even suggestive that the conservative-demographic base cannot, simply, understand science. A degrading insinuation, at a minimum, or a forthright insult.

However, the American Conservation Coalition, or ACC, is resurrecting an archaic idea in a new century.  Last year, a band of young, Republican environmentalists founded this organization that promotes environmental stewardship by directing attention on inefficiencies in our government-regulated, market-based economy.  While the ACC -- not to be confused with AOC -- appears to be a fantastic organization and desires to make an impact, Counter Current would like to provide a few helpful recommendations to make the ACC platform more effective in the second half of this two-part series.  Before exploring recommendations, Counter Current had the great privilege of corresponding with one of their staff writers, David Saul Acosta.

Meet David Saul Acosta.

David, a first generation Cuban-American, is just one story of many woven into the fabric of our nation’s, great, American Dream.  As a Miami native, he witnessed first-hand the influences of Latin America, the Caribbean, and “the importance of a strong America on the world stage.”

“I have been fortunate of the opportunities I have received throughout my life, and [have] never [forgotten] the hardships and sacrifices my family has had to order to open the doors of opportunity and be better able to pursue my own American Dream.”

Not only was he exceedingly keen on the struggles of his grandparents and parents (and discernibly grateful), but it was visible he realized that the United States was truly a land of opportunity like no other.  David’s parents sacrificed to ensure he had access to a quality education. As a proud graduate of private catholic schools -- during his formidable years in primary, middle, and high school -- he excelled academically.  Recently, David graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Miami. Now, he is pursuing a Master’s Degree from Harvard University in International Relations. Needless to say, he is impressive and will either further U.S. Foreign Policy to some degree or stay engaged with Miami’s ‘Young Republicans’.

“I believe the Republican Party must re-embrace the environmental stewardship legacy of its past, and champion free market solutions and sound government policy to meet the climate challenges of today, bolster its appeal to younger Americans who care deeply about climate change and expect action from their leaders in public office.”

Furthermore, as a staff writer for the American Conservation Coalition, David enjoys highlighting both “innovative programs and technologies -- particularly those of which come from private businesses and free market forces -- have had on the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.”  In addition, he finds it fascinating that “America’s business are stepping up to meet the challenges of our time”.

“As a lifelong resident of Florida, I have had the great fortune of living in state with great natural wonders and beauty. From our beaches to the rivers of grass in the Everglades, Florida is home to some of the most ecological significant environments in all of North America. As a child, I have always understood this distinction — with educators and class lessons in primary school highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship and conservation for the benefit of Florida’s environment, and its protection for future generations.”

Understandably, if the organization is filled with well-intended intellectuals, like David Saul Acosta, then the future of the ACC seems promising.

This is the first part of a 2-part series on the American Conservation Coalition. In the second half, Counter Current will critique, praise, and provide recommendations that, hopefully, will be received with optimism.

The Conservative Case for Conservation

Believing in climate change and being a conservative are not mutually exclusive values. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Failure to support the scientific link that climate change is caused by human activity is ideologically incongruent with conservatism.

Historically, conservatives have supported climate change initiatives. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, President Ronald Reagan signed the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1986, President George H.W. Bush commissioned the National Climate Assessment by passing the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and, then, his son rejected his predecessors by failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  

President Trump, with this established precedent, then exited from the non-binding Paris Agreement and cemented a party of skeptics. According to Yale University as of 2018, “only 40% of conservative Republicans,” believe climate change is real and “only 26%” believe it is the result of human activity. Make no mistake, this is a rejection of conservative principles.

Conservative ideology is predicated upon two key concepts: self-determination and traditionalism. Self-determination, more or less, is the ability to make decisions about one’s life while traditionalism is how an aggregate of individuals ought to live in society.  

Conservative beliefs stem from how the relationship of these ideas interact. Well-known positions, albeit misnomers, like small government or free markets, advance self-determination within a framework of traditionalism. For example, no rational citizen wants smog so bad that highways close, like in China, which is a clear example of how sensible environmental regulation must be balanced with appropriate market incentives for firms and individual freedoms to drive.  

Honestly, these misnomers have replaced the analytical framework for some conservatives, which is why federal actions to expand executive, judicial, or legislative powers are met with reactionary criticism. Some of this criticism is valid, while other criticism isn’t.

There is a requisite amount of federal expansion that must happen. In other words, conservatives and liberals are all born into a social contract. As citizens, certain freedoms are traded for safety. For example, if we want to have a formidable military, we must have non-zero taxation. The question, then, is what do we fund? Or, more accurately, what do we value?

When it comes to taxes, less is more. Unless a project is capital intensive or involves a common good, we do not necessarily need government involvement. From social security to public education to healthcare initiatives, these programs are plagued with fraudwaste, and abuse from misaligned incentives and short-sighted policy goals. Of course that list is not exhaustive and both the military and private sector are liable for similar failures.  

Matthew Kotchen of Yale University argues that a common good is both non-rival and non-excludable. The environment is an example of a common good. Roads, schools, public parks, and community services are all ideas built on a physical foundation— the environment.  Essentially, citizens are stakeholders of common goods through taxation. Naturally, citizens must also derive benefits from taxation. Otherwise, why bother paying taxes?   

Environmental stewardship may be nonpartisan, but application is not. Simply put, the problem starts with the intellectually dishonest denial and blatantly uninformed skepticism by many on the right. Failure to acknowledge how air pollutants are hurtful, regardless of greenhouse gas emissions, should be intuitive. These negative externalities only exacerbate the unnecessary gridlock that makes fixing flawed cap-and-trade policies or revenue-neutral carbon taxes harder. Hell, even Mattis believes that climate change negatively impacts our national security.  

Conservatives know the Environmental Protection Agency is flawed. However, the Republican Party’s first reactions are to shut it down instead of meaningful reform— denial over integration of environmental practices in classrooms, and not advocacy for community driven solutions at an individual consumer level.

To elaborate, reducing greenhouse gases have made our soldiers more lethal and decreased air pollutants allows us to live longer. Community solutions are inherently a conservative trait as the mantle of responsibility resides with ‘the’ individual. Further, youth organizations, like the Girl Scouts, teach environmental stewardship at an early age and the benefits of private sector sales.

Essentially, consumers drive our markets, our wars, and our environment’s health.  Let’s not punish bartenders with ridiculous straw ban penalties of imprisonment, but the cost of sourcing green consumer products is a more pure form of capitalism because the life-cycle pollution costs are taken into account.  

Conservatives will define crucial moments in history. As the champions of emancipation, of stewardship, and of nuclear disarmament, there is a choice.  We can be a skeptic, a believer, or deny the impact of human activity on greenhouse gases.  However, we owe it to our predecessors to understand what we value as conservatives.  

Thanks for reading. This article was originally published on Lone Conservative.

Disclaimer:  All views are my own.  None of my positions represent the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, or any stance of the U.S. Government.