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Ahead of America Recycles Day on November 15, the Roundtable spoke with Chris Barnard, president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), about its efforts to build and grow a grassroots movement devoted to tackling environmental challenges through common sense, limited government solutions. From ideas like investing in nuclear energy and exporting cleaner American natural gas to empowering farmers and ranchers to naturally sequester carbon, ACC works to change the narrative on issues like conservation, clean energy and agriculture by informing voters of all ages, as well as policymakers, about the importance and effectiveness of pro-American environmental solutions.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: The American Conservation Coalition is a new, fast-growing organization. What are you working to build with it?
Barnard: At ACC, we’re working to build and grow the conservative environmental movement. The movement has and continues to be dominated by left of center politicians and groups focusing on big government solutions. Our belief is that we can protect our environment and find common-sense, limited government solutions to these problems that are important to the left, the middle and the right of center voters. Our mission is to re-engage these individuals on environmentalism and climate change issues and to give them a pro-innovation, pro-American market-based alternative to things such as the Green New Deal.
Q: In your tenure as an organization, what type of impact has your work had on the public? What type of feedback have you received from lawmakers?
Barnard: We’ve been very successful at changing and shaping the narrative on these issues. We currently have over 30,000 members across the country at over 100 chapters. We’ve helped create and champion the Conservative Climate Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, and we’ve worked with organizations, members of Congress and allies across the country to identify common-sense limited government solutions to our climate and environmental issues, like expanding nuclear, hydropower and geothermal energy, investing in nature, deploying adaptation tech and lowering barriers for clean trade.
As a result of our work, the vast majority of the right is no longer focusing on climate denial, but on limited government solutions we can put forth, rather than those ushered in by proponents of big government solutions, such as the Green New Deal, which would cost roughly $93 trillion over 10 years. This costly and ineffective “solution” would empower the feds to control how people produce and consume energy, harvest crops, raise livestock, build homes and even drive cars. We don’t just stop there, we’re working on protecting our national parks, enhancing our forest management and more in our six big ideas. Seeing the narrative shift and bringing the conservative side back to the table on these issues has been immensely gratifying.
Q: Many would say the environmental issue is mostly a partisan topic. What’s the strategy behind discussing environmental issues and bipartisan solutions with lawmakers who don’t agree with your positions on global warming and climate change?
Barnard: The right of center has truly ceded this conversation to the left in detrimental ways. They have been afraid of the big government solutions that the left has proposed, and rightfully so. However, just because you disagree with the solutions put forth, doesn’t mean you need to reject the problems we’re facing.
The reality is, we do have environmental challenges, and we need to do something about them. The open secret here is that our solutions will tackle the problems at hand, while growing the economy, minimizing the role of government and strengthening our national security. None of these things are mutually exclusive, and so what we’re doing is informing people that we can have solutions that benefit the economy and the American people while protecting our environment.
Environmental issues are one of the top concerns of younger voters. They’re overwhelmingly voting against the right and with the left when it comes to these issues, but these shouldn’t be partisan problems. If we can truly work to find the right solutions with limited government and pro-American ideals we can reshape the playing field not just with these younger voters, but everyone. The environment has an effect on all of us, the rich, the poor, the young and the old.
Q: As an organization with a younger staff, yet a robust fundraising operation, do donors ever express concern about the lack of experience within your leadership? If so, how do you address that?
Barnard: We see our youthfulness as an immense and unique strength since we’re able to better understand and engage with our own audience. When we’re working on our grassroots movement, posting things on social media or chatting with folks around the country, we know we are talking to our peers. We have donors who support us for this precise reason. With that said, we’ve been in operation for six years and have proven we can handle a multi- million-dollar budget and employ dozens of full-time staff all while creating a strong grassroots movement with over 30,000 members. By creating meaningful change, initial worries have been quickly put to rest with our proven track record.
Q: What makes ACC unique? Why should people give their hard-earned money to your organization over others?
Barnard: Frankly, we’re the only organization building a conservative grassroots climate and environmental movement. ACC’s unique role is to grow the movement and influence minds while we’re at it. One of our current goals is to reach over 100,000 members by 2026. At the end of the day, it’s that energy and critical mass will allow us to identify and implement the right solutions, but to also win back the younger population with these common-sense beliefs.
We’re leading a fundamentally innovative movement for conservatives based on optimism, innovation and logically sound solutions. We’re not gluing ourselves to roads or throwing soup at paintings in protests. We believe that by taking a positive, forward-focusing approach, it will help us find real solutions that are proven to work.
We pride ourselves on focusing on the things that will create a positive effect on our world, including prioritizing nuclear energy, ensuring industry is part of the solution and focusing on proper forest management. Solutions that are data-driven and evidence based are paramount. We understand donors like the flexibility of donating in unique ways, from donor-advised funds to donating directly at www.acc.eco or by donating though their own foundations. There are several ways donors can get involved with us.
Our work has only just begun, and seeing the success we’ve already had tells us this was a strongly needed cause and we’re thrilled to be championing these important issues. At the end of the day, none of what we do would be possible without the generous support of our donors. The impact they have had on us is uplifting to say the least, and that is all thanks to the freedom we all have as Americans to give to the organizations and causes most important to us.
Q: From state legislatures to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., we are consistently seeing attacks on the constitutional right of charitable donors to remain anonymous in their giving. You briefly touched on the freedom to give, but to dive deeper, what is your message to those working to hinder people from donating to charitable organizations important to them?
Barnard: The sole reason we can continue the work we’ve been doing is because of generous support from our donors. There are so many incredible organizations across the country that are able to focus on the important work they do because of that generosity.
Today, more than any time in recent history, we are living in a divisive political climate. If anti-donor privacy legislation gets signed into law, we are certainly going to see charitable giving significantly decline. Whether a donor wishes to remain anonymous for humility, or religious reasons, maybe even out of fear of being harassed for supporting a controversial cause, or even so the attention isn’t taken away from the organization’s work, it frankly is their right guaranteed to them under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The highest court in America made it clear with the 1958 NAACP Supreme Court ruling and more recently in 2021 with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta case that donors are guaranteed this right to privacy.
We must ensure nothing we do hinders charitable donors and their support of the organizations and causes closest to their hearts. At the end of the day, philanthropy will always serve the good of the people much more effectively than the government.