All, an excellent recent op ed in the Lincoln Journal Star written by two of Nebraska’s ‘up-and-coming leaders’ . And yes, they represent both political parties and heartily agree on the need for climate action and the opportunities it affords.
The mainstream narrative goes something like this: If you’re a liberal, you’re a Prius-driving, chard-chomping, eco-conscious consumer. If you’re a conservative, you’re a gas-guzzling, steak-slamming, climate change denier.
That rift between political identity and climate change is, of course, real. But this narrative is flawed. Why? Because it simultaneously transforms would-be allies into enemies while ignoring growing, youth-inspired conservative action on climate – both across the country and here in the Heartland.
According to a 2019 Pew Survey, millennial and Gen Z Republicans nationwide are much more likely than their elders to think humans contribute greatly to climate change. They also are far more likely to believe the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change and are more supportive of alternative energy.
For example, at the national level, youthful organizations like the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) are mobilizing millennials and exerting pressure on Congress to act. Founded in 2017, ACC’s mission is to “change the narrative on environmental discussions through a mix of free-market, pro-business, and limited-government environmentalism in legislatures, colleges, the political arena, and beyond.”
Due in part to their advocacy, the U.S. House of Representatives recently unveiled a 60-member Conservative Climate Caucus that includes Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Meanwhile, Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer co-sponsored the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which passed on a 92-8 vote in June. Remember a few years ago when a Republican president called climate change an “expensive hoax” and linked wind turbines to cancer?
These winds of change are blowing our way, too. In 2018, Nebraska had more wind power growth than any other state. According to the American Clean Power Association, the state now generates enough clean energy to power 703,000 homes. And Republican mayors have been at the forefront of this transition.
In Norfolk, an 8.5-megawatt community solar farm that includes battery storage is under construction, and the city boasts of the positive economic impacts from regional wind energy generation. Also in northeast Nebraska, South Sioux City Mayor Rod Koch has embraced renewables, and the city already gets nearly half its electricity from renewables.
Unfortunately, however, the mainstream narrative still prevails in our state legislature. Nebraska is one of only 17 states without a state climate action plan and one of just 12 states, and the only Midwestern one, without a renewable energy standard or goal.
“Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things,” wrote T.S. Eliot. Some in the Nebraska Legislature – defying market trends and constituents’ support for clean energy while defending an outdated energy status quo – seem to be living proof of this assertion.
But what if our state senators’ action on climate was bipartisan and not bipolar? What if they saw themselves as part of this new narrative of conservative climate action? What if they opened their eyes to the reality that rural places engaging in clean energy generation is both a climate solution and a market opportunity?
To that point, clean energy generation has brought more than $4 billion in capital investment to Nebraska in recent years, creating almost 4,000 jobs, providing farmers $15 million annually in land lease payments, and paying nearly $30 million in taxes each year to local governments and school districts. No wonder younger people see clean energy favorably: it’s affording them opportunities to build careers and grow their rural communities.
Stewardship and clean energy generation fall naturally in line with conservative (root word "conserve") farm values: “If it’s useful, use it. Don’t waste anything.”
Climate advocates of all stripes should ponder that and not waste the opportunity to welcome conservatives as active, valuable voices in the effort to confront climate change while helping reshape and revitalize rural economies. And maybe, just maybe, that will help Nebraska’s leaders to act their part too.
Written by Jesse Starita and Josh Moenning