Daniel Turner is a multimedia journalist who has filed stories from Iowa to Indonesia. He now covers energy and environmental issues for Climate Nexus. Turner contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Listening to the political discourse surrounding environmental issues today, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that "conservative" and "conservation" used to go hand-in-hand in the United States. President Richard Nixon expanded the Clean Air Act and initiated the Safe Drinking Water Act, president Ronald Reagan tackled chemicals depleting the ozone layer, and president George H.W. Bush helped devise a market-based solution to reduce acid rain.
Today, that attitude of environmental stewardship can be hard to find among self-proclaimed conservatives in the United States. But across the Atlantic, one British conservative has a clear message on how our nation can bring it back — in just four easy steps.
The Honorable Right John Gummer, Lord Deben, epitomizes the notion of a Conservative conservationist. As a Conservative member of the U.K. House of Lords and head of their Committee on Climate Change, he is someone capable of touting austerity measures and the success of green jobs programs in the same sentence.
While Republicans refuse to consider any action to address climate change, the Conservative party in the U.K. spearheaded climate-change legislation in 2008, eventually crafting a bill that won the support of all but five of the 463 members of the House of Commons. The Climate Change Act led to the creation of the committee Lord Deben now heads, and the platform from which he works to determine five-year carbon targets for the country.
And these environmental actions seem to have quite the positive effect: Lord Deben highlights green job creation as one of the main reasons the U.K. is helping lead the economic recovery in Europe.
Much of Lord Deben's policy proposals would appeal to a Republican: He wants to reduce personal income taxes in exchange for a carbon tax, and supports natural gas fracking and nuclear power as some of the tools to reduce carbon emissions — as long as they remain cost-effective options.
But, he also recognizes that the politically charged culture has made it extremely difficult to discuss climate change across party lines. At a recent conference in Washington, D.C. on "Building Climate Solutions," he offered a handful of tips for changing the conversation and educating wider audiences on the impacts and opportunities of climate change. Here are four that are critical (see video for complete clips):
Speak more like Apple, and less like Microsoft.
Make the impacts of climate change relatable. It may be hard to comprehend the impacts of climate change in general terms, but people are certainly willing to listen when its happening to them.
Environmentalism isn't anti-growth — it's anti-waste. Emphasize the economic opportunities that come with adaptation to climate change.
Be cheerful! Or as Lord Deben puts it, "There's nothing so miserable as an environmentalist talking about climate change."
With those simple points, it's possible to return the conversation on climate change to a message that appeals to leaders on both sides of the aisle. It's a message the Great Communicator would certainly agree with:
"What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live … And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it." President Ronald Reagan, 1984 speech to the National Geographic Society
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