Conservatives must join movement for climate change

On Sunday, Sept. 21, the world’s largest climate change march to date is scheduled to take place in New York City. “The People’s Climate March,” as it is known, hopes to draw attention to the issue of climate change to world leaders at the upcoming United Nations summit by showing them that climate change is no longer an issue that can merely be put on the backburner. Framing the march as “the people’s” was a smart move on the part of the organizers, emphasizing that this is an issue that requires the attention of all people from all walks of life and corners of the globe.

I agree with this sentiment, and would like to encourage people to try to attend the march — specifically individuals who define themselves as conservatives, or at least have conservative positions on policy issues. Today in the United States, action on climate change has been framed as a liberal cause and is closely associated with the Democratic Party. This is not without reason, as the Republican Party has pushed back against many of President Obama’s climate change initiatives over the last five years, and there are not many vocal conservatives speaking out about climate change.

Looking at history, however, demonstrates that environmental concerns and causes are not divorced from conservatism or the Republican Party. President Theodore Roosevelt was a champion of the conservationist movement, aimed at preserving this country’s natural resources and forests from human overuse. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. Even Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern American conservative movement, who believed the powers of the government should be strictly limited, conceded in his 1970 book “The Conscience of a Majority” that people had a “right” to a clean and livable environment and that the government should provide that right by being a steward to the environment.

Even looking at recent years, one can see that inaction on climate change cannot be blanketed upon the entire conservative movement. There is a strong movement of “evangelical environmentalism” (evangelical Christians are a key part of the Republican voter base) with organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, and the Evangelical Environmental Network all acknowledging the threat of climate change and calling for action to save the planet from it.

Proof that conservatism — both in the past and the present — is deeply intertwined with environmentalism should encourage people today who consider themselves conservatives to learn about the threat of climate change. They should demand action from the elected leaders that represent them, notably in the Republican Party. I would argue that none of the three pillars that have unified the conservative movement for the past 30 years —namely, social issues, national security and free market principles — benefit from denying or being inactive on the issue of climate change. Socially, climate change can be seen as a pressing issue to save and preserve God’s earth as mandated by the Bible. In terms of national security, climate change and its effects are already destabilizing vast regions of the world, and just this year a group of retired Navy admirals released a report citing rising sea levels due to climate change as a pressing national security issue. Lastly, it is in the best interests of innovative capitalists and entrepreneurs to try their hand at renewable energy technologies and thus tap into potential new markets.

It is time for all conservatives and Republicans to join with liberals and Democrats to find a way to save our planet from climate change’s devastating effects. I invite them to start on Sept. 21 by attending the “People’s Climate Change March.”

Sergio Rojas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and history. He is president of College Republicans at Rutgers University.

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