Meet Sam: He's crossing the aisle for climate change


March 5, 2019

So, maybe polar bears are part of the reason we’re not taking action on climate change?

Personally, Sam loves polar bears. But he also understands why they’re not the top priority for everyone in his bipartisan student climate change organization. To him, making polar bears the face of climate change shows why approaching the issue from only one side isn’t working.

“The conversation is dominated by left-leaning organizations. So you’re only going to hear that sort of language. But the values of the left are different than the values of the right.”  

The problem, though, affects us all. And that’s why he started the Climate Stewardship Society.

“Saying, ‘Learn from people on the other side’ ... that's kind of unnatural in today's world,” he said. “You’re on a team, and everyone on the other side is traitorous! Horrible! Evil! We're battling the partisanship, the polarization, and the traibalness.”

Here are 5 ways Sam and his organization are broadening the discussion around climate change to include conservative ideals:

1. “You’re right, it’s scary.”

“A lot of time, it’s not so much science denial as it is fear or uncertainty,” Sam said. “We create a space for them to express those thoughts and viewpoints in a safe environment, where nobody is going to attack them.”

That’s the foundational tenet of the group: open, welcoming discussion.

“Sometimes I just want to shake people say, ‘Look at the science!’ ” he admitted. “But it’s not that easy. But when you talk to people, you get to know them. Having a conversation is a powerful aspect.”

2. “... But it’s happening right now.”

Giving people space to discuss their concerns doesn’t mean reinforcing their misconceptions, though.

“You have to be careful about not being willing to accept falsehoods,” Sam said. He pivots the discussion to communities who are already dealing with the effects of climate change right now: concrete, immediate examples.

3. “Meet people who are going through this.”

It’s not polar bears — it’s people.

“We take a human approach,” he said. “It’s about protecting human lives.”

He said there’s a misconception that conservatives don’t care about the human toll of climate change, but the exact opposite is true: Because people make that incorrect assumption, climate leaders aren’t making the human side visible enough.   

4. “We’re protecting our country.”

“Climate change is a national security issue,” Sam said. “Climate change is going to affect everybody. And it’s going to affect our ability to adapt.”

5. “This is an economic opportunity.”

“Climate change is framed as a crisis, but it’s also an opportunity we don’t want to miss,” Sam said.

And he has a lot of ideas about how to take advantage of that opportunity, which he outlined in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed he co-authored with former Congressman Bob Inglis.

The approach has worked. The Climate Stewardship Society has converted climate deniers, which Sam said he’s proud of.

But he’s working on a broader scale, too, representing conservative climate group RepublicEN to encourage more politicians to adopt this mindset. He said the political divide around the issue makes it more difficult for conservative leaders to take a pro-climate stance without repercussions, but that it’s getting better.  

“We don't really realize it, but when we wake up, we sign our name to how everything works,” he said. “It doesn't take much to change. You just got to be willing to speak up about it and say, ‘I think this should be different.’ That’s a start.”