The Energy Foundation Finds Allies on the Right Wing

The Energy Foundation may very well be the only funder to back Greenpeace, the Tides Foundation and the Christian Coalition. It does so for good reason—if climate activists stand a chance, conservatives are going to have to get religion when it comes to global warming.

There is a big gap between the consensus among scientists about human-caused climate change and public opinion. But there is a gigantic chasm between that scientific consensus and the beliefs of conservatives. Alarmingly, just 10 percent of Republican-leaning voters said they worry a great deal about climate change, according recent polling.

Enter Strange Bedfellow. The Christian Coalition has emerged as one of a handful of conservative advocacy groups (and extremely conservative at that) to come out as advocates for action on climate change. Since 2012, the Energy Foundation—a large climate change funding collaborative backed by funders like Hewlett and Packard—has been cutting six-figure checks to the group to start moving the needle on conservative attitudes toward the problem. 

Led by Roberta Combs, president and CEO, and her daughter Michele, who launched Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, the Christian Coalition has been making the case for Republicans reclaiming climate change as an issue. They see it as in sync with Christian ideals such as family values and fighting poverty, but also crucial to keeping the GOP relevant. In 2012, for example, Rebecca persuaded an MIT climate scientist to speak with the Republican presidential candidates. Of course, that didn’t work out so great.

Indeed, groups like the Christian Coalition have a hard path ahead, with Tea Party congressmen denying climate change, mainstream Republicans backing off the issue to save their seats, and voters somehow still unconvinced. Scientists themselves are trying hard to shift public opinion, with the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently launching the “What We Know” outreach campaign. 

Part of the problem is the millions of dollars being poured into the issue by conservative and libertarian think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, to plant seeds of doubt on the issue as part of a strategy to prevent government regulation. 

So attempts by the Energy Foundation to engage conservative groups (while still relatively very small) make a good deal of sense, to form a counterweight to deniers, not from the left but from the right. The Christian Coalition may be the most notable, but it’s not the only conservative group the foundation supports. They’ve regularly made grants to R Street Institute, a group that supports limited government, but also environmental protection. 

While the Energy Foundation has a long way to go in the battle for the right’s soul on climate change, there is one promising sign—youth. Younger voters seem to be much more concerned about the issue. And just as Republicans slowly but surely lost the demographic battle on social issues like gay marriage, so may go the resistance to action on climate change.