In Teton County we are blessed to live in a magical place of spectacular beauty, bountiful resources, and rich traditions. If we want to keep it that way we have to be vigilant against anything that poses a threat. I have come to realize that one such threat is climate change—and it deserves more of our attention.

We are witnessing local impacts from climate change in the form of more unpredictable weather, bark beetle outbreaks, and greater forest fire risks. And these seem trite compared to weather events and climate changes taking place on the global stage.

As a conservative, and a Republican elected official, I am concerned that we have not been constructively engaged in efforts to address climate change. Some still want to dispute well-established science, while others seem content to let Democrats craft the solutions. Both sound pretty risky to me.

Four former EPAAAdministrators who served five Republican Presidents from Nixon to Bush recently came out in favor of a national climate plan introduced by President Obama. In doing so, they noted that Obama’s approach was not their preferred option for addressing climate change, but in the absence of a serious Republican alternative, it was the only option on the table.

That points to a glaring problem in our party today. It is not good enough to simply oppose the proposals offered by Democrats, or pretend a credible problem isn’t real. We have to face the nation’s problems and offer better, more effective and more conservative solutions.

Past Republican leaders have risen to meet environmental challenges head on, and in doing so, they helped ensure the policy solutions being advanced actually work.

In response to abuses of his day, President Theodore Roosevelt championed responsible forestry, wildlife conservation and the protection of our nation’s natural treasures.

President Nixon tackled the severe pollution problems of the 1970s with an unprecedented effort to clean up our air and water.

When climate scientists warned that certain chemicals were depleting our atmosphere’s protective ozone layer, President Reagan pushed through an international treaty to phase out those chemicals. Today, as a result, the ozone layer is healing.

And it is a market-friendly solution developed during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations that has been successful in reducing acid rain, a problem that plagued parts of our nation for decades.

All of these solutions that were championed by Republicans have stood the test of time, improved our health and quality of life, allowed our nation to prosper, and are still protecting us today.

We need that same visionary leadership, courage and commitment to problem-solving from our party leaders today. And with respect to climate change, that means acknowledging our role and shifting the discussion from an avoidance-driven “this is not our problem” to a responsibility-driven “how can we fix it.”

Only by working to find real solutions to climate change, can we better ensure that they consist of realistic, balanced, market-driven, policies—ones that recognize a necessary role for natural gas, nuclear power and coal in our energy mix.

At its core, conservatism is about good stewardship, prudence, personal responsibility and hard work. Whether we are applying these values to fiscal matters or environmental matters, they are equally valid. Adhering to conservative values not only protects our way of life today, it safeguards the future for our children and grandchildren.

President Reagan, as he often did, put it best. After pointing out that he was worried about “what man has done and is doing to this magical planet that God gave us,” he said:

“This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”

As we face the very real problem of climate change we should emulate the example set by the great Republicans of the past, take President Reagan’s words to heart, roll up our sleeves, and start being part of the solution.

Paul Vogelheim has been a Teton County Commissioner since 2008. 

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