During a summer of energy challenges and extreme climate events, the Natural Resources Defense Fund actively advocates for a nuclear power plant to close in California. Progressive climate activists are urging the declaration of a “climate emergency” while opposing strong bipartisan legislation. 

The League of Conservation Voters evaluates a legislator’s environmental record by looking at their vote on police reform. Landmark climate funding was signed into law, but it was wrapped into a reconciliation bill, and the process left Republicans out of the conversation.

The environmental movement is distracted and broken, and it’s up to my generation to fix it.

Rather than putting what’s good for the planet first, today’s climate activists rely on performative publicity stunts and divisive rhetoric. They know there is guaranteed media coverage for gluing yourself to a painting, but these childish and offensive stunts hurt the image of the movement they claim to be invested in. Blocking traffic, dumping manure in front of the White House, and self-mutilation may grab headlines, but they do little to advance the policies needed to protect our environment.

While flawed, the environmental movement of the 1970s actually permitted bipartisanship and was able to achieve real results such as the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Today’s movement could take a page out of that book; rather than making the perfect the enemy of the good, environmentalists should encourage pragmatic lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come together on effective legislation. Positive reinforcement over negativity and annoyance always wins in the end.

I’ve seen firsthand the positive results of action-first climate advocacy. Farmers and ranchers in the Midwest are working to introduce regenerative practices into their business models. Coastal residents are taking local action to combat sea level rise. Former fossil fuel workers are leading the national transition to cleaner energy production. Everywhere you look, countless Americans across the country care about the environment and want to see improvements but don’t want to have any association with extreme climate activists who give the movement a bad name.

This sounds like an oversimplification of our intensely polarized political environment, but there is a path forward. Climate change is a daunting challenge, but we can agree on plenty of solutions. We need activists willing to work across the aisle on these policies to put action before activism. We have to put good policy over divisive rhetoric.

The way forward on environmental policy is not one massive, top-down, wide-reaching vision to redefine our future. Instead, we must pursue a smart, dynamic and incremental approach that first grabs the low-hanging fruit and then tackles specific issues one at a time. For those anxious to make climate progress, this is an initially unsatisfying approach. But the fact remains more has been accomplished through this strategy than the try-again, fail-again strategy of reintroducing the Green New Deal resolution each Congress.

This approach means investing in next-generation nuclear energy and other innovative technologies like carbon capture and battery storage. It means streamlining our web of regulations to ensure we can build clean energy projects like offshore wind farms. It means bringing critical mineral mining back to our shores and beating China and Russia in the clean energy arms race. It means bolstering nature’s ability to fight climate change through afforestation and active forest management, regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration. It means protecting American communities and ensuring all Americans have clean air and water access. It means doing the things we know in our hearts to be right.

We need an environmental movement rooted in a real conservation ethos, guided by smart, pragmatic principles that prioritize emissions reduction. We’re out of time for empty, performative activism. We have to commit to climate action.