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Young U.S. Conservatives Speak Out for Post-Pandemic Environmentalism

This story was originally published June 22, 2020 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A group of young conservatives has urged the United States to rebuild the post-pandemic economy with clean energy to help combat climate change, joining the ranks of Republicans who say they are unhappy with U.S. efforts to slow global warming.

The American Conservation Coalition Campus bought a weeklong series of television commercials on the conservative news outlet Fox News, asking President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress to implement green measures as the nation's economy reopens.

The group wants low and zero-emissions technology integrated into transportation infrastructure, incentives for private land owners to capture and store planet-warming gases underground and funding of affordable clean energy.

Since the coronavirus lockdowns shut down the U.S. economy in mid-March, Trump has called for investing as much as $2 trillion to jumpstart the world's largest economy back to life.

"Why not kill two birds with one stone and create a sustainable path to the future?" Benji Backer, founder of the group known as ACC Campus, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Climate activist Benji Backer poses for a picture. | Benji Backer/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation
Climate activist Benji Backer poses for a picture. | Benji Backer/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation

ACC Campus is an organization of conservative college students who advocate for limited-government environmental reform.

"Right now, at the federal government level, they're investing trillions of dollars into the American economy. That's something that doesn't happen very often," he said.

The ads show images of wildfires, storms and people waiting in lines at food banks, with recorded narration by several Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, on the importance of environmental preservation.

"How we rebuild is how we will be remembered," it says. "Join the young conservatives in fighting for a clean future."

The ads ran last week, the group said.

Research has shown that a growing share of Republicans are dissatisfied with government efforts to curb global warming.

An estimated 65% of moderate Republicans said last year the federal government was not doing enough to reduce the effects of global warming, up from 53% in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based non-partisan think tank.

Pew also found about half of Republicans age 18 to 38 were displeased with the government's climate action, compared with 41% of those age 38 to 54 and 31% of those 55 or older.

"Young people today, both Democrats and Republicans, have grown up in a world where climate change is no longer hypothetical," said Anthony Leiserowitz, head of Yale University's program on climate change communication that studies public sentiment.

"The impacts are hitting, and they're hitting hard," he said. "It's here and now."

Trump has denounced climate change as a hoax and started the process of pulling the country out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, a global pact aimed at limiting a rise in world temperatures.

The Republican president has also slashed regulations on oil and gas drillers and coal mining.

Last month, in response to the pandemic, the administration started giving oil and gas companies temporary breaks on royalties and rent they owed to lease public lands.

It has not offered similar deals to renewable energy companies.

"If he truly wants to put America first, if he truly wants America to be a global leader and lead on energy independence, then he should be 100% backing this message of building for the future," Backer said.

The White House is expected to unveil its latest effort on infrastructure investment in July.

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