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How to Talk to a Republican About Climate Change

How to Use Sustainability to Talk to the Other Side: Republicans vs. Democrats

In today’s increasingly polarized society, it’s become almost impossible for people of different political beliefs to even talk to one another, let alone be civil and get along. More often than not, people stay within their own political “tribe” and only want to associate with and talk to people that share their political view. With the effects of climate change accelerating through extreme weather, biodiversity loss, and environmental destruction, we can't afford to be isolated any longer. We need collaborative solutions, and we need them now.

Reaching across the aisle, collaborating and compromising, and reaching a consensus on large important societal & environmental issues has become increasingly more difficult as people retreat to the comfort of their own viewpoints and assume the worst about “the other side.”

This is where business sustainability comes in. Finding win-win scenarios that are both good for the environment and the bottom line is one way to do this – and is an effective way to find common ground between Republicans and Democrats. Here's how to create constructive conversations and use corporate sustainability as a path for Democrats and Republicans to talk to one another.

  1. There are solutions that bridge the rural-urban divide

There seems to be an ever-growing divide between both the needs and the political differences between urban and rural voters. Providing examples of solutions that benefit both is key for partnerships between Republicans and Democrats.

Many family farms feel threatened as the long-term economic viability of their farm is threatened by factors outside of their control – trade tariffs, environmental regulations and talk about fighting “climate change.” Increasingly, these rural areas are being overrun by development as farmers struggle to generate the profitability needed to compete with these development projects.  The American Farmland Trust estimates that an acre of farmland goes into development every 2 minutes. One bi-partisan solution that could help livestock farmers reduce environmental fees, increase profitability and also help stop climate change is addressing cow manure on their farms. Cow manure can be converted into biofuel and a is a great source of clean energy. Using anaerobic digesters, farmers can convert waste into energy, turn methane into clean power, reduce manure run-off into streams, avoid potential environmental fines, and create additional revenue streams through renewable energy credits and tax incentives.

Many farmers are also turning to leasing small plots of land on their farms for wind turbines, where they can earn between $2,000-$5,000 annually in royalties. These are win-win solutions that lets rural farmers maintain their lifestyle while generating cheap, clean power for urban residents – something that both parties can get behind.

  1. Blue collar workers benefit from sustainability

One of the main concerns for many Republicans is the growth of the economy, many believe that actions taken to benefit the environment will hurt jobs, especially for blue collar workers. One of the prime examples of this has been in the forestry industry, where Democrats and environmentalists fighting for the protection of the forests and wildlife have clashed with Republicans and loggers whose livelihood, jobs and small-town economies are at stake. As regulations have weakened and technology improves, fewer and fewer loggers are needed. This provides an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together through proper forest management practices. Eliminating clear cuts and shifting to a thinning and cutting approach protects blue collar jobs, prevents deforestation, reduces the risk of soil erosion, and helps prevent catastrophic forest fires. This is good for both environmentalists and conservatives who don’t want to see their tax dollars literally go up in smoke.

  1. Energy efficiency is patriotic

Sustainability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of patriotism, but the military has been implementing cost-effective environmental initiatives that save lives and protect our troops. What many don’t know that is the US military spends $81 billion annually protecting oil supplies. Moreover, overland fuel convoys account for nearly 50% of US deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both parties want to reduce casualties, maintain readiness and enable troops to better carry out their missions. This is where sustainability comes in. For example, the introduction of portable solar packs for soldiers created a light, mobile option that reduces the number of batteries they were carrying on their missions, lightening their packs and helping reduce injuries. Moreover, this helped reduce the amount of diesel fuel needed to run the generators powering up their batteries, thus leading to fewer conveys and preventing a significant percentage of casualties.

Although one political party may prioritize clean energy while another puts an emphasis on armed forces, there are clear areas of overlap that both parties can agree on.

  1. Use nostalgia as a tool

Conservative baby boomers are increasingly pining for the “golden days” of years past, and this has contributed to the “Make America Great Again” rhetoric we’ve been seeing take over pockets of the nation. This nostalgia can help create common ground and connect with a more skeptical and older population.

Older conservatives are more likely to support environmental initiatives when they are pitched as making the environment more like it was when they were children. Talk to them about fishing, hiking, hunting, or even playing outside in an era with less pollution, more natural wildlife and fewer extreme weather events. Though it is a subtle change in how you make your argument, connecting with someone’s values and memories can make the difference between a constructive conversation and an argument.

These examples are all ways to use sustainability to bring Democrats and Republicans together on common objectives to solve the climate crisis through shared values. Check out our "How to Talk to the Other Side" series, including tips on how to talk to the "Wall Street type" and how to talk to the "climate denier" for useful tools on how to reach across the aisle and discuss climate change.