I got to spend last week doing two of my favorite things: walking around Washington D.C., and changing the world. Now, I know that I must sound like every other bright-eyed young person upon their first substantial trip to our nation’s capital after watching Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, but on this trip, I really felt like I was making a difference. I got to help prove that conservatives have solutions to problems facing our environment, and helped show Congressional Republicans that millennials will have their back when they take action on environmental issues.

Just like anyone else, I hate when people make assumptions about me based off of limited information. Case in point: because I am a conservative, many people assume that I must not care about the environment and that I openly deny the existence of climate change. Not only is this wholly inaccurate as a generalization of the conservative movement, when it comes to millennial conservatives, it couldn’t be further from the truth. A recent poll by Citizens for Responsible Environmental Solutions showed that the majority of millennial GOP voters believe in the existence of climate change, over two-thirds of millennial GOP voters believe that the party needs to more when it comes to addressing climate change, and over three-fourths support the government taking action to accelerate the development of clean energy.

Generalizations like the ones commonly parroted about conservatives and the environment are not only inaccurate though, they are also incredibly harmful to dealing with environmental issues. When the political left believes that they have a monopoly on environmental issues, plans like the Green New Deal emerge, a plan which is as ineffective in reaching realistic environmental goals as it is destructive to the American economy. It’s time for us to break that monopoly and put ourselves and our solutions into the conversations.

Enter the American Conservation Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by conservative millennials dedicated to educating and empowering conservatives on environmental issues, and to advocate for solutions that are both environmentally friendly and economically friendly. Founded in 2017, this group is already making huge waves in the GOP for an organization as young as it is: Recently, the ACC helped with the formation of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, aimed at uniting Republicans on the issue of conservationism. Representatives Brian Mast of Florida and Elise Stefanik of New York are leading the charge, taking up the positions of Chair and Co-Chair in the House, with Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado working in the Senate. This caucus is paving the way for Republicans to take control of the future of environmental issues, and allow for responsible solutions to the problems that we face to be implemented.

The meetings I got to participate in this week made me very optimistic for the future of conservative conservationism (that just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?). Members of Congress and their aides were very open and receptive to our ideas, and many were glad to see that the steps they have been taking on environmental issues were finally garnering the support and recognition that they deserve.

It is clear, young conservatives want to see action taken on environmental issues, and it was great to show our elected officials that we will have their back when they take these bold steps. The future of the Republican party sits with environmentalism; This young generation of voters demands that the issues be addressed. However, we want to see them addressed in a responsible way that protects and strengthens our environment and our economy.

As conservatives, it is our duty to provide alternative solutions on environmental issues. The effects of these problems are becoming increasingly visible, and very soon a time will come when action will need to be taken. When the time for action comes, I don’t want the American people to have to choose between radical ideas like the Green New Deal and inaction. We must put ourselves out there and provide this country with another choice if we don’t want to see draconian limits put on our country’s energy potential and radical economic restructuring to occur (which is the not-so-hidden true motive behind the Green New Deal. Don’t trust me? Ask AOC’s Chief of Staff, he wrote it). Forking over power to the federal government and putting extreme, arbitrary limits on the American economy in dire search of a one-size-fits-all solution is not the road to a cleaner environment, it is the road to serfdom. Real change that will positively impact our environment will come from harnessing the power of the free market and American innovation, and by empowering states and localities to pursue solutions that best fit their needs.

Pro-environmental sentiments are growing, particularly among young people, who are coming of age in a warming planet and seeing the impacts of environmental issues first-hand. Climate change is real, and steps must be taken to alleviate the damage that our environments have faced over the years. When I was in the Boy Scouts, one of the most important lessons I learned was that you were always to leave a place better than you found it, be it the campground you are spending the weekend on, the church hall that you are meeting in, or the world you are living in. I want to be able to one day pass this country, in all of its beauty and abundance onto my children and it be cleaner and more fruitful than it was given to me. That can mean as little as picking up trash when I see it on the ground, or as big as advocating for national action on environmental issues. Steps big and small must be taken.

Conservatives, the time to step forward and demand action is now. We must work to change the narrative and show that conservatism and conservationism can go hand-in-hand. We cannot allow our country to embrace policies like the Green New Deal, instead we must advocate for responsible solutions to modernize our environmental policies while simultaneously strengthening our economy. We must encourage our elected officials to take up the mantle of environmental reform, and show them that we will have their backs when they take action. The future of the party, this country, and this planet depends on us.

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