It’s time to drop party loyalty and get loyal to the planet.
From the Paris Agreement, in which most developed nations are failing to meet their 2030 emission reduction targets, to the many pledges made at COP26, world leaders have proven themselves excellent at making grand promises only to break them. Luckily, we don’t have to accept this approach. The change to a better, more inclusive, more humble dialogue on climate change is not only necessary, but possible.
As a 17-year-old student accompanying the American Conservation Coalition at COP26 in Glasgow, I had the unique experience of being the least knowledgeable person in the room at almost all times. I got to meet brilliant individuals while seeing firsthand the relationship between policymakers, experts, and constituents. My involvement in ACC has given me insight into the often polarizing nature of climate politics and I’ve been encouraged to promote action that doesn’t exclude realistic ideas. While I went to Glasgow to represent young conservatives interested in combating climate change, I also learned that this issue requires a new, collective shift in approach from people on all sides and in all sectors.
Though historically environmentalism has not always been a partisan issue, the left has typically been most present in the conversation on climate change over the past several decades in the United States. Unfortunately, from what I have observed, the approach has generally utilized apocalyptic language, emotions like fear, and grandiose promises, as seen in proposals like the Green New Deal. While these radical proposals haven’t gone far legislatively, they have brought attention to the issue, especially when it comes to young people. The Fridays for Future march, attended by Greta Thunberg, during COP26 perfectly exemplified this, as many young people showed up to express their frustrations, yet marchers offered very little in terms of realistic, achievable solutions. The organization produced a petition, which achieves the necessary task of asking politicians to acknowledge the urgent nature of climate change and the fact that there are solutions, but gives only vague references to what those solutions could look like and no consideration of how they could actually be implemented.
In recent years, many right leaning politicians and individuals, including myself at one point, have shown hesitancy when it comes to engaging on the issue of climate change for various reasons. Fortunately, ACC and the creation of the Conservative Climate Caucus show the right starting to again play a role in climate solutions. In typical conservative fashion, the solutions aren’t always as emotionally appealing to young people, but they present market-based solutions which benefit both the environment and the economy. For example, the Growing Climate Solutions Act aims to aid farmers and ranchers who may want to participate in voluntary environmental credit markets in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A history of climate change denial also causes justifiable mistrust among some young voters. While realistic solutions and technological innovations are crucial to a thriving global market and planet, from what I’ve observed at COP26 and other events, conservatives lack a public passion for resolving environmental issues, which would likely increase their credibility.
If both sides are unwilling to change counterproductive tactics, there is no reason to expect change. Fortunately, the first-ever Global Conservative Climate Summit (GCCS) and COP26 marked small but significant changes to our collective approach. While the GCCS provided conservatives a space in a conversation which has typically occurred without them, much of the discussion centered efforts toward bipartisanship and highlighted the necessity for inclusivity, regardless of which political party holds more influence over an issue.
After listening to a variety of speakers, ranging from Theresa May, former UK prime minister and leader of the conservative party, to Van Jones, left-leaning news and political commentator, author, and lawyer, I realized that I was wrong. Before COP26, I expected, as I think many young people do, to see the areas in which different parties and ideologies contradict each other on the issue of climate. However, I realized that in some ways the left’s shortcomings are the right’s strengths, and the right’s shortcomings are the strengths of the left. I found that I was the most inspired and informed after listening to panels which included members from both sides.
Similarly, the typical relationship between experts and politicians was challenged during a panel discussion in which Representative Werani Chilenga of Malawi spoke on the challenges his country faced in this fight. After expressing an earnest level of concern about impediments to climate policy in Malawi, he posed a question to the listeners and asked them for guidance, knowing the audience consisted of many economists and environmental experts. Having been an observer of American politics, it was wildly refreshing to see a politician humble enough actually to ask the experts.
These experiences illustrate the need for changes in the dynamic between legislators and environmental scientists and politicians of differing political parties. Young people want to be passionately engaged on the subject of climate change. Still, we want to know that proposed solutions are realistic and that the commitments agreed upon by our representatives aren’t just performative stunts. If this issue is to be taken seriously, it requires a sincere focus on real, data-driven action. Rather than seeking approval or popularity by making false promises, politicians and leaders must seek guidance from climate experts and innovators and let the youth see their genuine efforts. We don't want to be told everything is OK to salvage our feelings; we want to know real action is being taken and how to participate in that action.
Brooklyn Brown is the president of the Salt Lake City branch of the American Conservation Coalition and a student at Clearfield High School.