Meet The New 1995 Society Member: Benji Backer!
Congratulations to our newest members of our 1995 Society! Meet one of our three award winners this year: Benji Backer!
A frequent contributor to multiple national media outlets, Benji is one of the leading youth environmental voices in the country. Benji is President and Founder of the American Conservation Coalition, the largest right-of-center environmental organization in the country.
For his work with the ACC, he has been awarded the Fortune 40 Under 40, Forbes 30 Under 30, GreenBiz 30 Under 30, and Grist 50. He serves as a Board member for the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum and Mainstream Republicans of Washington.
Benji grew up in Wisconsin and is an avid Wisconsin sports fan. He spends his free time hiking, skiing, and drinking unsweetened iced tea in his current home city of Seattle.
What moment or opportunity in your life played the most significant part in getting you to where you are today? I’ve been deeply active in politics since age 10, and I’ve learned a ton through my activism over the years since then. However, I threw a party after I graduated high school when my parents were on a trip to see my sister. And (long story short), I got caught. My parents’ punishment for me was to interview 30 successful people about how they achieved what they’d achieved. Nearly unanimously, they suggested that if I was going to start an organization, business, etc…to start it when I was young. They pointed to the abundance of new ideas young people bring to the table and how few obligations we have (limiting the risk of new endeavors). Just a few months later, I launched ACC with that inspiration in mind.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career so far? Carving out a niche for conservative/libertarian environmentalism has been a near-impossible feat. It’s gone against what everyone thought was conventionally possible. Convening support from politicians, news outlets, donors, and the general public has been very difficult. There’s no mode of a similar organization to copy, and we basically started at ground zero with our founding. In short, there’s never been an “easy” day. At its core, those realities have resulted in receiving more “no’s” from people than I could’ve ever imagined…and giving up would have been the easiest (and understandable) route. Instead, staying steadfast in the mission and finding those “yesses”, even if they were few and far between, has resulted in our success.
What piece of work or accomplishment are you most proud of? When my peers and I launched ACC, the national narrative of conservatives and libertarians was one of climate & environmental denial. Today, just six years later, that narrative is far different — and rightfully so. Countless freedom-loving leaders have been engaging productively (and proactively) on environmental issues and the narrative has begun shifting to environmental pragmatism and common-sense policy results. ACC’s movement has been the leading contributor to that change.
In your words, what motivates your belief in freedom? Freedom brings the best out of society and is the reason our reality is as incredible as it is today. I’ve always believed the brightest days for our world are ahead, and freedom is the only way to unlock that reality.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing America today? Polarization. Between traditional news media and social media, we are far more divided than we should be. In my role at ACC, I’ve traveled to nearly every state and met with tens of thousands of stakeholders on the ground from all political stripes and backgrounds. We are being completely fooled to become more divisive and hateful by the powers that be. Why? Because it pays to divide.
What is the next big goal or project you’re working on? How can the AF community help? I’m writing a book called “The Conservative Case for Climate Optimism.” It will outline a strategy for right-of-center thinkers to approach environmentalism and climate issues. Any promotion and support once it’s released (tentatively Q1 2024) would be incredible!
What advice do you have for those who want to advance liberty and make a difference in our society? Never bend a knee to the status quo. The status quo is nearly always wrong — and represents the bare minimum of what society can do. Bringing fresh ideas and challenging the status quo is the best way to make the world a better place, and I believe everyone can disrupt the world in a positive way, but only if we’re bold enough to do things differently.
What are some hobbies/side gigs/secret skills no one knows about? I’m pretty good at pickleball, tennis, and…singing.
What are you watching/reading right now? I’m reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris.
Last question: What does winning this award mean to you? I’m just one small piece of the team and the movement we’ve created ACC. I’m grateful to see recognition like this because it shows how far we’ve come — and how much impact we’ve had. Most importantly, it’s inspiring to think of the duty we have in accomplishing even bigger things moving forward. The work is just beginning and I want to thank everyone for supporting me and ACC over the years.