Commentary by Kiera O’Brien and Ben Zollinger published originally in February by CNBC 

New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designate, listening to questions during US Senate confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January, 2001.

The Republican Party is alienating an entire generation of young conservative voters by continuing to downplay climate science and sidestep solutions.

Among the many internal battles over the heart and soul of the GOP, the most overlooked yet consequential may center on energy and environmental policy. Here, party leaders risk driving away the millennial generation that is the future of both parties, and already the largest voting bloc.

As the presidents of the College Republican groups at Harvard and Yale, we have witnessed this play out on our campuses, where climate change and clean energy have become defining issues that often stymie our recruitment efforts. Environmental issues significantly influence the voting patterns of most millennials, and polling indicatesthat nearly three-quarters of young conservatives support addressing climate change. It should come as little surprise, then, that 23 percent of Republicans under 30 switched to the Democratic Party in the past two years. That compares to just 9 percent of Democrats in the same age group switching to the GOP.

Unfortunately, today’s GOP forces its members to make a false choice between party and planet, to the detriment of both. President Donald Trump is absolutely right about the need to create jobs, drive economic growth and promote competitiveness. But on climate, he is missing an opportunity to position America as the world leader for the next generation of energy technologies.

A free market climate policy would unleash the greatest force on earth, American innovation, toward a brighter economic future for our generation. Using the government to subsidize coal, a highly polluting source of energy that has failed to compete in the market, will not do this.

“The Republican party has a long legacy of environmental stewardship; after all, what’s more conservative than conservation?”

The conservative canon offers a cost-effective and pro-growth climate solution. That’s why today, we are joining with 19 other college Republican groups as co-founders of Students for Carbon Dividends, a national student-led coalition that calls for a free market and limited government climate solution based on carbon dividends. This is a first of its kind effort among young conservatives to galvanize party leaders to restore the mantle of climate leadership to the GOP.

The Republican party has a long legacy of environmental stewardship; after all, what’s more conservative than conservation? Throughout American history, Republicans have been at the forefront of protecting our shared patrimony in nature. This legacy stretches from Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation of hundreds of millions of acres of land, to Richard Nixon’s establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, to Ronald Reagan’s actions to save the ozone layer, to George H.W. Bush’s policies to curb acid rain.

The GOP’s long-established stewardship ethic must now be applied to climate policy. That is why S4CD backs a climate solution supported by many of the most prominent names of the modern conservative movement– including James Baker, George Shultz, Henry Paulson, Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw. They recently pointed the way forward by co-authoring The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends, which fuses the GOP’s commitment to economically responsible policy making with a prudent climate solution.

The Baker-Shultz carbon dividends plan is pro-growth, pro-jobs, and pro-competitiveness. In design and function, it puts America first. It puts a price on emissions through a revenue-neutral and gradually-rising carbon tax. Proceeds would bypass governmental agencies and be returned directly to the American people in the form of monthly dividends. Environmental regulations that are no longer necessary, such as Obama’s Clean Power Plan, would be rolled back and rescinded. As a result, this plan would achieve far greater emissions reductions than all Obama-era regulations, while shrinking the size of government.

This conservative carbon dividends plan could be the basis for a much-needed bipartisan climate breakthrough. Already, the Baker-Shultz plan is being promoted by the Climate Leadership Council, an organization co-founded by a broad range of Fortune 500 companies, including fossil fuel majors, environmental NGOs, and opinion leaders from across the political spectrum. Our own coalition of student groups includes Democrats and environmental organizations, further demonstrating that this Republican-driven climate effort has crossover appeal.

If our party remains sidelined on this topic, we are not only hamstringing ourselves in competitive elections, but ceding complete ownership of a pivotal issue to Democrats and their command-and-control agenda. Climate change is hardly going away, and offers the GOP an opportunity to turn the tables on a critical issue by showcasing the full power of our market-based and small government principles.

So what are Republicans waiting for? Over the coming months, we will add dozens more campus groups and tens of thousands of students to our coalition, mobilizing them behind this breakthrough climate solution.

Our message to young Republicans is clear: we no longer need to choose between party orthodoxy and the mounting risks facing our planet. A conservative climate approach is not only superior in all ways, but also politically-viable. Working alongside our fellow young Republicans and our party’s elder statesmen, we can help make it happen.

Kiera O’Brien and Ben Zollinger are the presidents, respectively, of the College Republican groups at Harvard and Yale, and co-founders of Students for Carbon Dividends. Follow them on Twitter @Kiera_Obrien and @BenZollingrer