Danielle Butcher’s family, which was heavily involved in the environmental movement in her native Minnesota, inspired her to pursue a career preserving the beauties of nature, but there is a twist: Butcher describes her politically active family as “quite left of center,” while Danielle is COO and executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition, which is rather right of center.
Danielle, 23, sees herself as carrying on a family tradition—just maybe not in the way her family might have anticipated. As for the family’s reaction, they are mystified but proud.
Danielle was among a group of young conservatives who together founded the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), a nonprofit that is “dedicated to mobilizing young people around environmental action through common-sense, market-based, and limited-government ideals.”
The ACC website further states that the organization “believes economic and environmental success go hand-in-hand, and that everyone should feel empowered to take a seat at the table in discussions concerning conservation, clean energy, sportsmen’s rights, agriculture, climate, and much more.”
American Conservation Coalition founders were recent college grads who thought conservatives were missing the boat on environmental issues.
The founders were recent college graduates who thought conservatives were missing the boat on environmental issues. “We were a group of probably about six or seven college-aged young conservatives,” Butcher recalls. “We had all been active in conservative politics, right of center politics for a long time. We believed in those values of conservatism, and we noticed that our party was not paying attention to environmental issues, and we thought that was a mistake. We know this is an issue that young people particularly really care about, and the right needs to have a platform, they need to have a response, or we’re going to lose an entire generation of voters. We wanted the environment to be protected to the degree it needs to be protected.”
ACC’s activities are focused mostly on college campuses, with more than 200 groups on campuses around the country. The office is virtual—Benji Backer, ACC president, lives in Seattle, several staffers are located in Washington, D.C., and campus outreach is centered in Ohio. Danielle lives in Dallas.
“We decided to go the campus route initially,” Danielle explains, “We were able to spread quickly on college campuses because, frankly, it’s not just young Republicans who are fed up with the current environmental movement. A lot of people are tired of the way that the environment has become so partisan.
“We decided to go on college campuses and spread our message of, ‘hey, markets can work, we don’t need the government to do this. Innovation is a better response to this,’ and it really took off. People wanted a message like that. They wanted to advocate for something positive and inspiring that they could believe in. It’s a much better story, and it’s a much more realistic approach to say, ‘innovation can solve this problem’ rather than saying ‘we’re all doomed in 10 years if we don’t do this through the government.’
“As far as what our students are doing,” she continues, “they are doing just about anything and everything that you can think of from an activism point of view. They are writing op-eds for both national outlets and their student papers, they’re hosting events with elected officials, they’re hosting debates, they’re hosting activism drives, they’re going out into their communities, they’re doing beach cleanups, they’re hiking, they’re practicing what they’re preaching. They are being responsible stewards for their environment locally and then they’re showcasing how that can be done elsewhere. And they’re finding businesses that have innovative environmental solutions. They’re talking with the agricultural community, they’re talking with the business sector, they’re doing just about everything you could think of.”
Danielle began her transition into a real-life Alex Keaton (the conservative child in a family of ardent liberals on the show “Family Ties”) around seventh or eighth grade.
ACC’s presence isn’t limited to the campus. It helped launch and recruit for the bicameral Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, which promotes sound environmental policies that rely on American ingenuity and science. RCC members include Senators Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Steve Daines from Montana, Rep. Elise Stefanik from New York, and others.
Another project is the Electric Election 2020 Roadtrip. “Our team traveled around the country in a Tesla, and we went state to state meeting with local elected officials, or entrepreneurs, business owners, and hearing from them about why they care about sustainability and what it is that they’re doing to leave their land better than they found it. We met with people in the dairy industry, solar companies, wind companies, natural gas companies, we met with anyone and everyone and truly telling that story of American innovation that’s happening without the government interfering and without mandates, or top-down regulation, but just happening because some American had an idea for a business and wanted to make a difference.”
Growing government, not saving the planet, is a driving force in some sectors of the environmental movement on the left, Danielle says. “Climate change aside, everyone cares about the environment. Everybody enjoys being able to go out and see beautiful places. Everybody loves our natural heritage. And so, because we all have that, it’s easy to justify just about any policy, regardless of whether or not it makes sense. We’ve allowed the left to hold a monopoly on environmental issues.”
Danielle began thinking about—and enjoying—the environment early on.
She explains, “I was born and raised in northern Minnesota and my dad worked in sustainability before moving to the solar industry, so clean energy in particular is something that I grew up familiar with. We grew up going to national parks and spending a lot of time outside. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. So, naturally, spending time on the water was something that I did a lot as a kid. I think that upbringing fostered a love for the environment.
“My family was also very politically active,” Danielle continues. “They’re quite left of center and growing up I’d subscribed to that a little bit. When you are little, you just kind of believe what you’re told, but the older I got the more I challenged that way of thinking and found that I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that I was raised to believe. That’s not to say that I didn’t value the same things that my family valued. I just thought that there were better solutions, and better policies, better ways to go about addressing the problems that I saw in the world.”
She revealed to her parents that she was going to her first C-PAC (on her own saved money) at the last minute.
Danielle began her transition into a real-life Alex Keaton (the conservative child in a family of ardent liberals on the show “Family Ties”) around seventh or eighth grade. Still, politics didn’t immediately take over. She did competitive dance and sang in the chamber choir. “But by the time I was in my probably sophomore or junior year, politics had really taken hold,” she remembers. The high schooler started attending conferences and volunteering for campaigns. While still in high school, she attended her first Conservative Political Action Conference—CPAC.
“I didn’t want to ask my dad for permission to go,” Danielle says, “because I didn’t want him to give him the opportunity to say no. So, I booked my flight, booked my hotel, and then two days before said ‘hey, can you write me a note to get out of school?’ And he did. So, I’ll give him credit there. He’s always been very supportive even though he hasn’t agreed.” (Danielle paid for the trip herself—she had earned the money doing contract work for various conservative organizations.)
“My first CPAC was just amazing. I was so excited,” she recalls. “I remember all the different conservatives were there, and I was starstruck. They were all offering their ideas and their visions for conservatism. I remember my first CPAC as being a contest of ideas. It was so cool for me to get involved that way.”
Although politically divided, Danielle’s family seems to provide a model for civil discussion. What are holiday dinners, so trying for many families with different political views, like? “Relatively tame,” Danielle says, laughing. She and her progressive, politically-involved grandpa do their best to avoid politics, but she and her parents aren’t scared to disagree, although they may not change each other’s minds.
Growing government, not saving the planet, is a driving force in some sectors of the environmental movement on the left, Danielle says. They take a limited-government, free-market approach to the environment.
Showing her famous independence of mind, Danielle jumped at the opportunity to work in the conservative movement. “I became a conservative activist, and through my activism I was given all sorts of internships and would go to speak at events,” she says. At one of these events, she met Benji Backer.
In its brief life, the American Conservation Coalition has won praise for its non-shrill approach to the environment. It has also established itself as a haven for environmentally-conscious young conservatives looking for a home. Danielle believes it can do even better. “I think the conservative youth movement is incredibly strong,” she says. “Everyone I know is so passionate, so talented, but it’s not very big. It’s a little bit of a bubble. And I think that we need to do a better job of stepping out of that bubble. We need to remind ourselves that most 20-year-olds are not as invested in politics as we are. If we want to reach them, we can’t be so constantly political. We must do a better job of embracing culture.”
Danielle is already emerging as a talented leader. And some of it might be because of the smooth social skills she developed in a family that was both loving and liberal. “Unfortunately for my dad,” Danielle says, laughing, “he always raised me to question authority and question what I was told, to have an independent mindset, and that is what I have done.”