Benji Backer learned early on the enigmatic nature of being a conservative political activist and environmental advocate.
But Backer believes that caring about the health and welfare of the planet shouldn’t be a polarizing or politicized issue.
As part of his 50-day “Electric Election” road trip across the U.S., the 22-year-old is in the valley today to meet with Aspen Skiing Co. executives and learn about local programs to protect the environment and operate in a sustainable fashion.
The Colorado stop is a full-circle one for Backer, who attributes his appreciation for the environment — and subsequent calling to protect it — to a childhood ski trip to the state.
“It’s hard to not want to protect the environment when you see the beauty that is Colorado,” Backer said in a phone interview Monday.
In high school, Backer educated himself on issues of climate change in his home state of Wisconsin — then of the country and the world. But advocating for conservative causes and the environment often fell at odds at one another.
“I never heard conservatives talking about the environment, and considering myself an environmentalist was somewhat taboo,” Backer said. “It was pretty alarming to me because I knew we would need both sides to solve these challenges … I decided there needed to be a voice for people who leaned right-of-center and cared about [environmental] issues and wanted pragmatic results.”
In college, Backer founded The Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing young people around environmental action through commonsense, market-based and limited-government ideals.
Formerly known as the American Conservation Coalition Campus, the TCC now reaches 220 college campuses across the country and boasts 100 other branches, Backer said.
After graduating college in June, Backer decided to embark on his current journey in an effort to hear from Americans living in rural areas and major cities on all sides of the political spectrum. Behind the wheel of a Tesla, Backer started in Seattle and drove across the upper region of the U.S., down the East Coast, through the southeast and into the West.
Among Backer's objectives are to meet with local leaders to showcase innovative, market-based environmental solutions that are helping fight climate change, drive economic growth and innovation, create jobs, and engage with communities traditionally left out of the climate discussion, he said.
“What we found is a similar message of people wanting to solve this, regardless of their political identity, and they want to be a part of the solution. They want to be heard, and they want their community to be at the forefront of fighting these challenges,” Backer said. “That uplifting message is what we were hoping to find, but we’ve been blown away at the degree at how badly people want these sorts of solutions.”
Amid one of the most divisive moments represented by a presidential campaign in U.S. history, the sentiments and stories from the road have been nothing short of empowering and energizing, Backer said.
Still, he continued, the country and world are nowhere near where they need to be with regard to combatting and resolving climate change.
“There’s not enough action, and there are a lot of communities that completely feel like they aren’t being heard on these issues — and that they feel like their values are by the wayside as it pertains to climate change and the environment. And that needs to change,” Backer said. “We’re going to have to be willing to put politics aside a little bit to actually do something good for society and for future generations.”