How to Craft Climate Conservative Op-Eds

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Are you a conservative or a constituent with a conservative member of Congress? This training covers how to write effective op-eds focused on climate change with conservative framing and talking points. 

TOC and Guide Section
Why write an op-ed?
  • An opinion column (“op-ed”) grabs the attention of members of Congress and their staff.
  • Op-eds have impact!  It’s a chance to show a wider audience that conservatives care about climate and want to be part of the conversation.
  • People across the political spectrum can be influenced by op-eds.
Planning your op-ed

With the way that climate touches on everything, from environment, to government, to businesses, to communities, there is a huge range of topics you could cover. Here’s some topics that are good to center your conservative op-ed around:

Speaking Conservatively About the Economy

A good way to catch the eye of a conservative is to include economic arguments in your op-ed.

There are some harrowing macro-economic pressures that climate change could unleash on the US. Among them would be an unprecedented low GDP growth, as well as persistently high inflation rates. Discussing inflation, and (for example) how climate change disrupts supply chains and drives up food prices, could be especially salient given the current state of the economy.

Rather than just focusing on the bad that could come from NOT addressing climate change, it’s also important to discuss the good things that would happen by doing something about it. In this case, you could talk about how addressing the problem would mean creating lots of new technology, boosting research and development investment, and creating jobs.

You could also discuss the basic economic principle of correcting for a negative externality, whereby rather than letting fossil fuel companies pass on the costs of CO2 emissions, we make them price those costs into their products. This fits well into the conservative inclination for “fairness.”

Speaking Conservatively About the Government

If you want to keep the attention of a conservative reader, then you need to know how to talk about the government.

First off, avoid mentioning policies heavily reliant on regulation, like mandated emissions standards, and instead drum up the existence of policies that could help the environment and do away with regulations, like National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reform and a carbon fee paired with a dividend (CF&D).

Next, avoid talking about policies that would raise the national debt. And, if you’re touting a policy which is relatively cheap, or revenue neutral like CF&D, talk about the deficit-reducing potential..

This one may be obvious, but anything that involves people paying more taxes, is a no-go for conservatives. Further, policies reliant on creating new agencies or expanding the power and size of the federal government should be avoided.

So, to sum it up, keep it small when you’re discussing these areas of the government. And, just as important, if you’re touting CF&D or policies that keep the government small, or taxes low, be sure to mention it. 

Explicitly say stuff like “this won’t incur any debt” or “it won’t create a new agency” etc, because conservatives will love to hear that.

Speaking Conservatively About U.S. Global Politics

Conservatives, like just about everyone, worry about the U.S.’s place in the world. Here are a few things you can mention to drive at those concerns:

Talk about how climate change is going to threaten U.S. military bases and installations which cost billions of dollars to construct and are vital to our national security.

Mention how climate change will cause conflicts between countries that could drag the U.S. into wars we’d rather avoid. This means putting our troops in harm’s way when we could’ve avoided it had we acted sooner.

Talk about CBAMs (carbon border adjustment mechanisms) and how they are a useful tool for applying pressure to other countries. This mechanism will allow us to take advantage of American clean manufacturing and bring other countries into the fold of carbon pricing. As covered earlier, conservatives like “fairness,” so talking about CBAMs answers their concern of, “why should we pay to do something if China won’t?”

Speaking Conservatively About America’s Natural Endowments

Conservatives respond well to writing positively about the “outdoors.” In fact, the word “outdoors” is preferable to “environment” because it does not carry as much political baggage.

A great talking point is how America’s agricultural industry is reliant on stable weather systems and that this industry is crucial to the economic health of middle America and the rural U.S.

Further, you could mention that the U.S. has been blessed with natural endowments worth preserving — nature retreats and resources which allow conservatives to enjoy pursuits they love such as hunting, fishing, and hiking.

America’s outdoors are obviously important for ecological reasons, but don’t forget that they are also economically, culturally, and aesthetically significant.

The Writing Process

Your approach can take several forms: A straightforward presentation of facts, a personal story or a first person narrative. Choose the one that feels most comfortable to you.

What to think about

There are a few questions you should consider as you set out to write your op-ed:

  • What timely topics have you seen in the news that relate to climate change?
  • What should be in the news that isn’t already?
  • Why are you passionate about conservative climate change solutions?
  • How does climate change affect your life and the lives of local people?
  • What local perspectives could be persuasive to your member of Congress? 
  • If you mention your member of Congress by name, the odds are pretty good that at least someone on their staff will see it.

Structuring Your Op-ed

  • Once you choose your topic, stay focused.
  • Introduce your point with a compelling opening paragraph about something timely, interesting and newsworthy.
  • Identify the problem, say how it can be solved and who needs to solve it, and make a call to action. 
  • If you cite statistics, use them sparingly and with a clear purpose. 
  • Sign off with a thoughtful and urgent point.

Be Compelling

Grab the reader’s attention with an opening paragraph that makes them want to read more. For example:

"They’re telling us we have to get out now. We’re heading over to your place.” 

That was the call I got from my mother last week as flames from the Marshall Fire raced toward their home in Rock Creek…

What’s Your Local Angle?

Your local newspaper is probably not very interested in climate impacts in far flung places. But if you can relate climate change to what’s happening in your state and community, editors are more likely to accept your piece. 

What is the impact that climate change is having in your area and will have in the future? What are some of the opportunities that exist in your area as we transition to a greener economy?

Think about the identity and values of your audience and your member of Congress. What do they care about and how can you catch their attention about climate change? 

Highlight the Solutions

For some people, learning more about the problems posed by climate change can cause anxiety and hinder them from taking action. A way to stop this from happening is to discuss the solutions to the problem and some ways they can help out.

Talk about solutions that won’t up-end their way of life or hinder the free market. For example:

“In order to safeguard our country and ensure the next generation are not burdened with the increasing cost of climate disasters we must reduce emissions with urgency.”

“The U.S. needs strong free market climate solutions that will create jobs and boost the economy such as a price on carbon.”

Anticipate readers’ questions

Anticipating and answering questions creates a logical flow to your op-ed. 

  • You might write: “How can we price carbon without it being an economic burden on American families?”

Make sure your piece focuses on the answer to your question. 

  • For example: “American families can see economic benefits from a carbon price. Here’s how...”

Make a clear “call to action”

  • What is the crucial message you wish to convey in your op-ed? Resist the urge to cover too many different topics. 
  • Make an “ask” for climate policy momentum that appeals to the values of your member of Congress.
  • Make a clear call to action like urging people to contact Congress or go to https://cclusa.org/action 

Can You Write The Headline?

Once you’ve written your piece make sure you can sum it up in a headline. That’s a good test to see if you’ve stayed laser focused on your topic. 

When you submit your op-ed, include the suggested headline. More often than not, they’ll use it. This reduces the risk of a bad headline being written. The headline is the first entry point to your piece, and you don’t want a botched introduction.

Fine-tuning your op-ed

  • Remember that the average word count is 600-750 words. Research the word count for your local newspaper and stick to it. 
  • Be polite and respectful in your tone. Thank members of Congress for taking steps in the right direction rather than criticizing. 
  • Be optimistic — give readers the positives and talk about problem solving. 
  • Be strategic — mention your member of Congress by name.
  • Be polished. Fact check carefully and cite sources. Stick to the required word count.

How to Submit An Op-Ed

  • Go to the opinion page and see if there are instructions for submitting an op-ed. You could also look up the email for the opinion editor on the staff page of the newspaper.
  • Include a headshot of yourself.
  • If it’s not printed, send a polite follow-up email, or leave a voicemail, asking if they are interested in publishing it.
  • Offer your op-ed to one newspaper at a time.
Ideas & Examples
Sharing Your Success & Getting Support

Sharing your success!

  • Send a thank you email to the opinion page editor.
  • Ask the Group Leader or their designate to log an action: https://community.citizensclimate.org/actions/home 
  • Share the op-ed with your chapter.
  • Share it on social media.
  • Send a copy of the op-ed with the link to your district’s CCL liaison so they can forward it to your member of Congress.

Join us for a Letter Writing Zoom Party

Want to join our supportive community of CCL writers to see examples of great op-eds and LTEs (letters to the editor) and get help and feedback? 

Join us on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30pm ET (listed on the CCL Community Events Calendar).

We’ll discuss timely topics and give you 20 minutes uninterrupted to write. 

Press play to start the video (26m 53s)
Video Outline
Skip ahead to the following section(s):

Intro & Agenda

Why Write An Op-ed?

Planning Your Conservative Angle

The Writing Process

Ideas & Examples

Share Your Success & Writing Circle
  • Nate Abercrombie
  • Charlotte Ward
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (26m 53s)
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Audio Outline
Skip ahead to the following section(s):

Intro & Agenda

Why Write An Op-ed?

Planning Your Conservative Angle

The Writing Process

Ideas & Examples

Share Your Success & Writing Circle
  • Nate Abercrombie
  • Charlotte Ward
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