When last we met the conservative activist co-opting climate to make the GOP appealing to the youths, Benji Backer was going on rightwing, denier-platforming and/or fossil-fuel-funded podcasts and posing the big climate questions, like, “how can I make tea at home instead of having to go out and buy tea every time that I need a caffeine break?”
No telling if the young activist has yet solved the complex problem of boiling water and dropping a tea bag into it, but one thing he does have figured out is how to get good PR stories placed to soften the GOP’s fossil-fuel-funding-driven climate denial.
For example, earlier this month Reuters covered a rally in south Florida that Backer’s group, the American Conservation Coalition, put together with a handful of local politicians to make it look like, per the headline “conservatives stake claim to climate activism.” To his credit, reporter Timothy Gardner’s story makes it clear that actual climate activists consider ACC to be “obstructing the aggressive climate” and “proposing half-measure market-based solutions instead.” And even then, the ACC doesn’t support the most obvious and imperative market-based solution of a price on carbon. Instead it's throwing its (meager) weight behind GOP catchphrases like “innovation” and industry bailouts like carbon capture.
As for ACC’s more explicitly denier counterparts, the Heartland Institute was very critical of the event, claiming that the “rally audience consisted of only about 50-to-60 attendees, who appeared to be outnumbered by the rally organizers, their guests, and the liberal media.” (The much more reliable narrator at Reuters, Tim Gardner reported around 200 people present.)
ACC has been effective in providing some photo ops for Republicans to soften their denier image, but little else. For example, in a story published by a Michigan Fox affiliate, a headline claims that “young GOPers aren’t denying climate change, they want to tackle it.”
But they’re not so much tackling, as juking to make voters think Republicans care about the issue. If they actually wanted to solve it, then ACC’s agenda would actually include some target dates or have any sort of actual plan to reduce emissions beyond hyping the same fake solutions the GOP’s been pushing for decades as an excuse not to reduce emissions in any way that threatens the profits of their fossil fuel industry donors.
And it’s not hard to see that either. When Dave Roberts rolled his eyes at the Fox story, Backer responded within 20 minutes to snark back. Roberts then replied that “it’s all so performative & designed to please op-ed writers. We need to get to net zero carbon by 2050. Come up with a plan to do that & get someone in your party to support it & introduce it as legislation.”
Instead of a response indicating that the ACC does actually have a science-backed plan and elected-Republican backed policy, Backer demurred. Instead, he tweeted the sort of banal nothingness ACC really stands for: “be authentically yourself, even if it’s not popular.”
Which is fair, because he’s not exactly popular with either the climate community that views him as, at best, an agent of predatory delay, or with the
hardcore deniers conservatives he’s claiming to represent, as Heartland maybe sort of shows. But even more telling is that he called the group “American Conservation Coalition,” despite the fact that it’s not actually conserving any land, and isn’t actually a coalition. A coalition would be an alliance of different groups, like when Heartland and CFACT and other denial organizations team up to obstruct climate policy.
Because for whatever inroads the ACC may be making on the right, it pales in comparison to the actual coalitions Republicans rely on to set their climate agenda where it matters: in office.
Yesterday, for example, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee spent the morning hearing from professional disinformers. Steve Milloy called it the “climate realist A-team”: former CATO climate guy and current Heartland fellow Pat Michaels sat between the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Dave Stevenson and CFACT’s terrorism-embracing Marc Morano, who was next to Heartland policy advisor Joe Bastardi and across the table from Heartland’s fired former president Frank Lasee, CO2-coalition President and disinfo producer Greg Wrightstone, and disgraced Trump science appointee David Legates.
As for the intellectual firepower this conservative coalition brought to the fore, well it ... wasn’t exactly persuasive. Democratic Rep Elizabeth Fielder described their “repeated FALSE claims” as “ridiculous” and considered the meeting, to inform legislation preventing the state’s Democratic Governor from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, “a ridiculous waste of public dollars.”
And indeed it was, but that’s the industry’s strategy, to stall and waste time while continuing to profit from their polluting product. While Backer is grabbing headlines for convening a group of a handful of South Florida Republicans who are forced to acknowledge climate change because their districts are literally sinking beneath rising tides, the fossil fuel industry’s rising PR star Alex Epstein is sending emails to supporters bragging about how he’s been “sharing energy messaging and strategy” with all kinds of elected officials and Congressional staffers from “97 members spanning 66 offices — including just about every energy-related committee and subcommittee in Congress.”
ACC may be making the GOP look better on climate in the media, but in the actual statehouses where political decisions are made, climate deniers are busy ensuring “a ridiculous waste of public dollars.”