Rob Sisson: Building a greener future for the GOP

Is environmentalism really a conservative cause? Rob Sisson, the president of ConservAmerica, thinks so. Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, January 6, 2013 — Green energy is the wave of the future. Rob Sisson thinks that the GOP can catch that wave. America’s economic independence and the end of Middle Eastern energy dominance are conservative issues, and alternative energy sources are a means to both ends. What might the center-right perspective on nuclear and solar power be?

Many on the right believe that our country should continue using fossil fuels for the sake of cost efficiency. Does the economic logic of that policy stand up well in the long run?

Rob Sisson is the president of ConservAmerica, an organization dedicated to bringing green policy measures to the GOP. ConservAmerica is working to defeat the stereotype that environmentalism is not a center-right cause, and Sisson believes that the Republican Party’s future may entail stances not now considered conservative.  

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Joseph F. Cotto: Developing alternative sources of energy is very important for America’s economic independence. What are your opinions about nuclear and solar power? 

Rob Sisson: We are strong supporters of nuclear and solar. I’m encouraged by the continued research on small scale nuclear energy. Germany is a global leader in solar power. In Germany, too, its citizens, small businesses, and farmers are becoming energy producers by installing solar. We’re close – within a decade – of seeing distributive energy generation take off in the U.S. Already, in several states, homeowners can install solar energy systems on their homes and use the savings to pay for the investment. As economies of scale make solar more competitive with other sources, it will become more commonplace across the country.

Cotto: Many on the right claim that America should continue using fossil fuels due to cost efficiency. What are your views regarding this idea? 

Sisson: Those who make this claim do not factor in the cost of the commons – the long term costs caused by burning fossil fuels. Whether that is rendering a bucolic Appalachian valley uninhabitable through mountain top removal or through climate change or health costs caused by asthma and other illnesses, a significant portion of the costs of burning fossil fuels is not paid by our monthly bills or at the pump. 

Further, the federal government provides massive public subsidies to the oil and coal industries. Another hidden cost of oil is national defense spending to protect our interests in oil producing regions. One Republican candidate for president last year suggested the “all in” price of a gallon of gasoline was about $16.

Cotto: Very often, environmentalism is perceived as being anything but a right-of-center cause. Has ConservAmerica found success in defeating this stereotype? 

Sisson: Yes. Often pro-environment shares a nexus with pro-national security, pro-economy, pro-life, pro-family, and pro-liberty. For example, the CDC reports that each year in America, 600,000 babies are born with unsafe levels of mercury already in their bodies. That mercury gets into the environment from burning fossil fuels—primarily coal. I spoke at a tea party meeting recently and asked, “Can there be any greater infringement on a person’s liberty than to reach into the mother’s womb and poison a child before it has a chance to breathe its first breath?” 

It struck a chord with the audience and several went out of their way to tell me that they’d never thought of it that way, and that they had changed their minds on the issue.

Cotto: Do you think that the GOP’s future will entail a more moderate stance on environmental issues?  

Sisson: It must, if only to survive as a party. Some polling indicates that the GOP will not be competitive with voters under the age of 30 by 2016 unless it returns to its historic ethic on conservation, including an acknowledgement of climate science. Faith based voters are no longer a single issue voting bloc; they are factoring in Creation Care as a key issue. 

Cotto: How did you become an advocate for environmental causes? Tell us a bit about your life and career. 

Sisson: I grew up in a rural area of Southwest Michigan. Almost every waking moment outside of school was spent in a nearby woodlot or lake. My dad and grandfathers taught me to hunt and fish. Our family vacations were spent camping in Michigan state parks. Dad was a government and history teacher, which planted the seed that would later sprout the political junkie in me.

My wife and I regularly vacationed in the Northern Rockies, a tradition we’ve continued with our twin sons. When the boys were born, I entered a period of introspection. The big question was, “What kind of world am I going to leave them?” My focus quickly settled upon environmental protection. As a Republican active in the party, I realized that traditional voice had gone missing from the party. Everything came together when I was elected mayor of my hometown, a city of 12,000 people, and joined the staff of ConservAmerica in 2006.

Despite the constant roller coaster ride of the past six years, I remain optimistic that the Republican Party will once again take up the conservation leadership mantle.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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