Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Christian peace activist John McConnell first suggested the idea in 1969, and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson promoted the idea shortly after as an education tool. The first Earth Day took place the following spring, and Richard Nixon proposed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a few months later. Earth Day is now celebrated in nearly every country around the world.
Preserving the environment remained a bipartisan issue for decades — typically with higher support among Republicans — until the 1980s when a push to reduce pollution redrew the political lines. According to a Gallup poll released this week, support for environmental issues is now significantly lower among Republicans, and nearly all the Republican support comes from those under the age of 35.
Those who oppose environmental efforts often say they’re bad for business or that climate change is a hoax or exaggeration. However, another reason exists for waging war on climate change that most conservatives can get behind: It would strengthen national security and give America a strategic advantage over our geopolitical rivals.
According to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration, America is the world’s leading oil producer, followed by countries like Saudi Arabia (No. 2), Russia (No. 3), China (No. 5), Iraq (No. 6), United Arab Emirates (No. 7), Iran (No. 9) and Kuwait (No. 10). We have varying degrees of tension with each of these countries, and even the ones who aren’t openly adversarial still have large segments of society who’d gleefully chant “death to America.” Case in point, 17 of the 19 hijackers from the 9/11 attacks hailed from Nos. 2 and 7 on this list.
The national wealth for many of these countries is directly tied to oil, and the world’s overreliance on oil gives them an oversized influence in global policy. Whether at the hands of government officials or energy sector beneficiaries, parts of this wealth may be used to sponsor terrorism, pursue nuclear weapons, build up militaries, lobby U.S. politicans and squash efforts to promote democracy and human rights. The U.S., in turn, must spend billions each year to counter many of these activities.
A green power revolution could change all that.
Give the Green New Deal whatever name you want — conservatives might want to name it after Teddy Roosevelt, but hell, honor Trump by calling it the Orange New Deal if you like — but we change Earth for the better through investment in renewable energy and public works programs. By reducing our oil imports, we reduce the wealth and influence of countries whose political agendas often run counter to American interests and values, and we gain significant leverage in negotiating new deals on a wide range of issues. Such changes can transform the Middle East in positive ways.
Moreover, a complete upgrade to our energy infrastructure would negate a major American weakness that’s just waiting to be exploited. Earlier this year, a Slate cover story put the U.S. electrical grid on its list of the most dangerous tech companies, noting, “National security officials have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of a foreign power, particularly Russia [No. 3 on the list], disrupting the U.S. grid with a cyberattack. As it turns out, some of the country’s biggest power companies may not be prepared in such an event.”
Republicans should love a green revolution as a sustainable form of national security, but the benefits (as relates to conservative values) don’t stop there.
“More Americans choose the environment (60%) than economic growth (33%) when asked which of the two should be given priority,” said another Gallup poll published this week, but the environment and economic growth are not either/or options. The poll was conducted in March before the coronavirus clusterfuck, but infrastructure investment creates new job opportunities, and that’s exactly what the country needs right now to stimulate economic growth again. It would even offer opportunities to, say, retrain coal miners in West Virginia and Wyoming for new higher paying jobs that are substantially safer.
How could we afford this?
The upfront costs are dwarfed by the long-term savings. For starters, Americans would enjoy a significant reduction in their monthly expenses like heating, electricity and car fuel. Think of it as a permanent tax cut if you prefer, but the end result is more of your money in your pocket. Thinking globally, we could export our technology at a major profit, and our ability to effect change in these top oil-producing nations might allow us to reduce how much we spend on defense. Keep in mind, our 2020 defense budget is nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars.
Finally, conservatives can help conserve the environment through market-based solutions. In a move that could minimize regulations, green-powered innovation funded by the government and led by private enterprise will give businesses an alternative they’d prefer based on cost, if nothing else. Such a solution will require a major investment that needs to happen fast, however, as other countries on the oil-producing list have already woken up to this reality. China is the elephant in the room, but even Saudi Arabia is moving away from oil dependence with Saudi Vision 2030. If we don’t act soon, other countries will lap us like we’re riding a tricycle, and they’ll have the advantage in business, employment and national wealth as we buy the new technology from them instead.
Today we celebrate Earth Day. In the future, we can celebrate an America that’s stronger, smarter, safer and more prosperous if we invest now in an American-led green revolution.