Stop Weaponizing Climate for Partisan Political Gain | Opinion

As one more Earth Day comes and goes, it is time for an honest reckoning of the environmental movement's record.

After decades of activism and billions in spending, awareness on the issue has risen, but an actionable political course remains nonexistent.

From the "Green New Deal" to "Drill Baby Drill," the politics of sloganeering has outpaced the substance of meaningful reform, and in that void the climate conversation has been held political prisoner.

Some believed unified Democratic control of government under the leadership of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would finally trigger meaningful progress on renewable energy and environmental policy. Instead, climate politics reverted to the status quo, becoming the latest victim of the biggest lie in American politics: the false choice of mutual exclusivity.

Either you believe in the "Green New Deal," or you are a climate denier. Either you believe in drilling our way to energy independence, or you don't truly want to put "America First."

Meanwhile, environmental threats continue to mount, and foreign adversaries like China are leading the charge to corner a trillion-dollar global renewable market that will help determine the economic balance of power for the 21st century and beyond.

It is time for a fresh approach. It is time for people who say conservation shouldn't be political to stop weaponizing the issue of climate to hold onto political power. It is time for both parties to come to the table united in a sincere desire for viable solutions.

As a Republican, I am the first to admit that my party hasn't always entered the conversation in good faith. At the same time, the environmental Left must acknowledge the ways in which it has—knowingly or not—stalled action on the issue.

The unfortunate reality is that the environmental movement has become inextricably linked to left-wing progressive activism. The Green New Deal, the principal rallying cry of climate advocates, is little more than a trojan horse for a liberal political wish-list.

Don't take my word for it. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's own chief of staff disclosed in a 2019 interview that the Green New Deal wasn't even envisioned as a climate plan. Its backers designed it as a "change the entire economy thing."

Climate protest sign
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: Environmental activists rally on Capitol Hill after a march from Lafayette Square during a Fridays Global Climate Strike event on March 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. Activists gathered at the event to call on President Biden to “end all fossil fuel projects and ensure a just and immediate transition to renewable energies, hold polluters accountable, and declare a climate emergency.” Alex Wong/Getty Images

That often-unspoken truth explains why the Green New Deal includes a federal jobs guarantee, free health care for all and—I'm not kidding—guaranteed paid vacation. These are issues worthy of debate on their individual merits. But their inclusion as pillars of a proposal that the environmental Left considers the "gold standard" makes the entire proposal fundamentally unserious.

And this insistence by elected officials on the Left to tether climate proposals to the expansion of government programs takes an issue that shouldn't be political, and makes it a political non-starter before the debate has even begun.

One begins to wonder whether keeping the conservation conversation captive on one side of the aisle is the environmental Left's actual goal. A recent analysis found that just under 2 percent of climate philanthropy goes to right-of-center environmental engagement. This imbalance not only leaves conservatives on the sidelines—it also warps our public discourse.

Consider the latest, loudest argument sweeping through the climate world, that capitalism must be dismantled in order to achieve meaningful progress on the environment. Outside of very limited circles, this is an idea most Americans find extreme and unpalatable. Yet by giving a megaphone almost exclusively to the political Left, the environmental movement as a whole undercuts its own mission by alienating vast swaths of the American electorate.

The reality is that capitalism isn't the problem. It is the solution. Any pathway to success on environmental preservation will require the development of technologies that don't exist yet. To accelerate these innovations—and deploy them across the economy—we need to harness the power of the American marketplace. We cannot continue to outsource the solutions of tomorrow, preemptively forfeiting the jobs that accompany them and accelerating the eradication of the American middle class.

When the best wind turbines and solar panels are made in America, that means more jobs in America paying the living wages American workers deserve. Our goal should be positioning our country to compete in this emerging global landscape, not destroying the business environment required for success.

Any effective climate plan must start with holding the biggest global emitters of carbon—Russia, China and India—accountable. America cannot compromise its economic sovereignty in the name of environmental commitments that the biggest emitters do not recognize. More than 85 percent of emissions occur beyond our nation's shores. U.S. policy must reflect the international realities of this issue and compel other countries to do their part. Otherwise, we set the conditions to damage our own economy while rendering ourselves powerless to effect the environmental change we seek.

Price signals, not mandates, are the best path forward on climate policy. Assessing a fee on the carbon content of overseas goods would send a message that we were serious to the world while setting the conditions for American producers in all industries to compete on equal footing. This approach rewards corporate stewardship here at home and paves the way to bring competitive jobs back to America

We can open the door to lasting, effective climate solutions. With good-faith leadership, we can build an uncommon coalition and break through Washington gridlock once and for all.

Joe Pinion is a candidate for U.S. Senate in the state of New York. He is a senior fellow for Deploy/US and national spokesman for republicEN.org.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.