Opinion | Are Republicans Getting Serious About Climate Change?

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It’s been a long time coming, but some Republicans seem to have finally gotten serious about climate change. In June, a handful of senators rolled out a bipartisan climate change bill. It is co-sponsored by Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

The bill, the Growing Climate Solutions Act, makes it easier to pay farmers to capture carbon. It is the latest in a series of actions Republicans have taken in the past year to combat climate change.

In March, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, unveiled the first in a series of three original proposals to help slow the earth’s warming. The bills aim to help cut emissions by expanding a tax credit for carbon-capture technology and draw on federal funds for research and development.

With a growing majority of Americans concerned about the effects of climate change — 67 percent say the government isn’t doing enough to combat it — Republicans may have had a politically expedient change of heart. Better late than never. The latest legislation offers the parties a common ground where meaningful change can flourish.

As a conservative Christian environmentalist, I’ve witnessed how the Republican base of Christian voters has helped push its leaders in this direction. The faith-based world is an overlooked source of activism for climate policy. When it comes to theology, a growing number of them are taking the Bible’s Genesis call to care for Creation very seriously, and younger Christians increasingly seek policies that speak to this. Republicans have cultivated options that don’t negate the conservative values they hold dear.

Mr. McCarthy’s approach bypasses government mandates and regulations. Instead, it focuses on clean energy, carbon capture and conservation. Conservatives have historically opposed expensive, large-scale federal policy, but these innovative solutions provide tangible steps without sacrificing conservative principles. This is the Republican Party’s bread and butter: creative concepts that don’t require significant mandates or regulations to meet societal needs.

Other Republicans have followed in his footsteps. This summer, Senator Mike Braun of Indiana joined Mr. Graham on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, and Senator Lisa Murkoswki of Alaska offered a bipartisan bill (with Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island) addressing the impact of oceans in capturing carbon. These proposals come as hunting and fishing groups rally Congress to pursue bipartisan efforts that can pass the House and the Senate.

There is also an opportunity for new partnerships, both with younger Republicans and Christian communities engaged in the climate fight. Because about 80 percent of Christians identify as Republican, political focus on climate policy will draw new interest from this characteristically passionate, activated group.

“By focusing on mobilizing Christians on this issue, other Christians will begin to see people like them engaging, and begin to recognize themselves in that movement,” said Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, a representative for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, in a phone interview.

Most churchgoing Christians view scripture as holy. Therefore, earthcare becomes a sacred act of worship. For the younger generation, environmental responsibility and combating climate change is both personal and spiritual.

“We, as Christians, have a responsibility to steward the earth we’ve been given, and we can’t do that without practical solutions,” Bethany Bowra, a conservative Christian in her 20s, wrote in an email. “God gave us a beautiful world that reflects Him at every turn, and my faith plays a role in the way I view our responsibility to engage on environmental issues.”

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action is just one of a growing number of faith-based organizations focused on the environment. Interfaith Power and Light exists to mobilize “a religious response to global warming,” and the Evangelical Environmental Network aims to “to be faithful stewards of God’s provision.”

Later this year, a Creation Care Prayer Breakfast, hosted by a group of evangelical environmental organizations, is scheduled to take place in Washington and feature a keynote address from Walter Kim, the president of the National Association for Evangelicals.

The Yale Program for Climate Change Communications concluded that Christians cite “protecting God’s creation” as their primary concern. They also found that presenting environmental concerns in a biblical, “stewardship framework” revealed “significant increases in pro-environmental and climate change beliefs.”

Not everyone is welcoming of the conservative plans for the environment. A writer at The New Republic called Mr. McCarthy’s approach “a package only a fossil fuel executive could love.” The Sierra Club balked at a proposal from the Trump administration related to logging, denouncing it as “cynical exploitation” and “greenwashing.”

A purity standard on climate action may lead only to more gridlock. Progressive climate activists might consider the upside: These new Republican policies give environmentalists an “in” with churchgoers, who are a very powerfully activated demographic. And it’s something Joe Biden and his Democrat colleagues could work with if they take the presidency in November.

It might be difficult for progressives to believe in the environmental transformation of Republicans or the religious. Indeed, conservatives have generally shunned taking action on climate change. But that is changing. In 2019, Senator Graham said Republicans needed to “up our game” on climate change, and the party didn’t wait long to move on that.

If polling on what Americans care about is any measure, they won’t be letting up the fight for conservative climate change policy anytime soon. It demonstrates that a vocal group of concerned citizens really can lead their political leaders on the issues they care about.

Democrats have led the way on environmental policy issues before this, but it’s time for a longer table. Friends from the other side of the aisle are asking to join.

Ericka Andersen (@ErickaAndersen), a freelance writer in Indianapolis, worked in communications for National Review, the Heritage Foundation and, from 2009-11, the Republican House Conference.

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