President Joe Biden has been seen — throughout his entire career — as a moderate Democrat. For the entirety of his campaign, Mr. Biden has taken extra care to toe the line between the centrist and progressive wings of his party, selecting Kamala Harris, the most liberal member of the Senate, as his vice president while himself rejecting the demands of the hard left.
In fact, many saw Mr. Biden’s choice in running mate as a strategic move to bring both wings of his party together, as Ms. Harris herself is an advocate for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and other progressive wish-list items. Mr. Biden’s careful pre-election positioning left many hoping for more liberal tendencies post-election, however, Mr. Biden has given no indication that he intends to change course now. Instead, he has continued to coast on coalition politics, doing his best to select cabinet picks that will appease both spectrums of his party.
Chief among the issues Mr. Biden has refused to take a progressive approach to is climate change. For months, leftist climate activists have called on the Biden camp to prioritize Green New Deal-esque, big-government environmental policy. For the most part, these calls have fallen on deaf ears, as Mr. Biden has never once fully embraced their climate platform. While elements of his climate plan are certainly inspired by the efforts of AOC and Ed Markey, others are decidedly not, including his promised investments in carbon capture technology, which Democrats often decry as a fossil fuel enabler.
Despite Mr. Biden’s prioritization of climate action, progressive climate activists have declared that anything short of a Green New Deal will never be enough. This was made painfully clear at the close of 2020, when over 300 environmental groups attempted to halt the biggest update to U.S. energy law in more than a decade — because it didn’t overhaul the entirety of the U.S. economy.
The inability and unwillingness to compromise on the left means that serious climate solutions will stall as the urgency for action grows. While the left claims we don’t have time for incremental progress, climate incrementalism is oftentimes the only way that emissions are reduced. One such example of this is in the case of natural gas overtaking coal production — while greatly reducing our emissions, natural gas utilization is simply not on the table for progressives.
For this reason, conservative climate activists and climate-minded Republicans in Congress may just be President Biden’s unlikely allies in garnering meaningful environmental policy. It’s true that we do not agree on every solution, but we have far more in common than with those who are Green New Deal or bust. Together, we can promote incentivizing the development of key emission-reducing technologies, maintaining our current nuclear fleet, developing advanced SMRs and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure. While this may not be the economic remake liberals hope for, these steps are not insignificant and would pave the way for lower emissions and a cleaner future.
As they did with the Trump administration, left-wing climate activists have sent a my-way-or-the-highway signal — but the well-being of our planet and our communities can’t wait. The progressive approach of trying — and failing — to convince administrations to pass their “perfect” climate plan only delays action.
Conservative climate activists know it, and President Biden seems to know it as well. If we focus on effective solutions that will begin reducing carbon in our atmosphere today, we will be moving in the right direction. Activism is powerful, but activism can’t rely on obstruction and protest alone. Good activism leads to real action.
For those who hope for real climate solutions rather than performative rhetoric, there is optimism to be found in the Biden administration. Conservatives, of course, must step up with our own ideas, and advocate for market-based climate solutions that empower the private sector and incentivize innovation. We won’t agree on everything, but the days of conservatives showing up to the table empty-handed are coming to a close. By engaging with the Biden administration, conservatives will show that it is we, not progressives who often dominate the headlines, who are the key to climate action in the United States.
• Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) and a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).
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