By Philip Finkelstein
In Citizens’ Climate Lobby, nonpartisanship is core to our work. That means we regularly to reach out to people across the political spectrum about climate change and climate policy, including conservatives. One way our volunteers engage conservatives is by talking with them directly and highlighting other conservative voices already in the conversation.
Major Bruce Morlan, the chair of CCL’s Conservative Caucus, recently took a road trip from his home state of Minnesota to Omaha, Nebraska, to provide a conservative voice at a CCL event on climate action. As a Republican who served in the U.S. Air Force as Chief Scientist for the Intelligence Director of Strategic Air Command, Bruce hopes that his involvement in CCL can demonstrate to other conservatives that being a Republican and a climate activist are reflections of the same set of values. And by putting special emphasis toward the impact of climate change on the U.S. military, he believes conservative citizens will be more likely to join CCL and engage with an issue that’s often framed through liberal talking points.
Once he arrived in Omaha, Bruce joined Bellevue CCL chapter leaders Frances Mendenhall and Frances Moore as they hosted a meet-and-greet for Rotarians in the area. The next day, Bruce sat as an expert on a panel discussing “The Burden,” a movie documenting the dangers of fossil fuel dependence with respect to U.S. national security. Looking out on 68 people in attendance, many of whom were veterans, the panel discussed a wide range of topics, including the science behind the objections to wind turbines, work being done by the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group (ESRAG), CCL’s lobbying strategy, and the valuable role agriculture—a focal point of Nebraska’s economy—can play in climate action. Importantly, they discussed the problems the U.S. military is facing due to climate change, as well as bipartisan climate solutions like the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763).
The audience responded to this discussion with lots of insightful questions. In response to one question specific to conservatives and science, Bruce elaborated on his personal experience as a Republican working in science as a researcher and teacher, and in it, his journey from climate change skeptic to advocate. The remarks clearly demonstrated the means for breaking down preconceived notions about climate change and escaping the trap of identity politics, serving as a perfect example of conservative outreach and the positive effect it can have on strengthening the movement to address climate challenges. Overall, the movie and panel discussion went over well, giving Bruce one more reason to be optimistic about growing conservative support for climate action.
Before returning home the next day, Bruce had a one more opportunity to help grow that support. He hosted a Zoom meeting for the Bellevue CCL chapter to discuss communicating with conservatives about climate change, while clarifying what it really means to be a conservative. Bruce cautioned, “We must be very careful with the language and framing we use to avoid offending the echo chambers of the left and right.” He reminded the attentive audience that engaged conservatives are out there, and with continued outreach, we can find them. He drove home feeling that the trip was productive.
CCL Conservative Outreach Director, Jim Tolbert, said, “Bruce provides a solid example of how our conservative voices in CCL can be leveraged to help chapters reach more conservatives in their local communities.” In this way, the Conservative Caucus action team works to recruit, retain and activate conservatives in CCL. After all, bipartisan legislation is stronger and has more staying power than legislation passed with the support of just one party—Jim points to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which were passed and signed with support from both sides of the aisle to form the backbone of our country’s environmental protections.
Jim hopes even more CCL members and chapters will take this approach of using the Conservative Caucus members within CCL as a resource to support additional conservative outreach. And now is the time. Jim says, “Attitudes are shifting dramatically by leaders on the right. This is reflected by constructive statements from many Republican members of Congress. Our work is to engage other conservatives who are concerned about the risks from climate change so their voices can be heard.”
If you want to be one of those voices or are interested in conservative outreach, you can get in touch with CCL’s Conservative Caucus via email at conservatives @ citizensclimate.org.