Sen. Bill Frist wants a greener, healthier Tennessee.
“You see this intersection between health and the environment, which is water and land and air and climate change. So what we’re going to do is involve young people, college-aged specifically,” said Frist in the fall.
The former Republican majority leader and surgeon joined forces with the American Conservation Coalition to start the Volunteer Venture in his home state, a program that encourages young people — especially young conservatives — to fight for climate action.
The ACC, a non-profit environmental organization, was founded in 2017 by Benji Backer in Washington state. Since its founding, it has worked to help bring recognition to current climate issues and lobby for bipartisan action in Washington D.C.
Through projects, workshops and state and national campaigns, the ACC works to educate voters on ethical hunting practices, modernizing the nation’s infrastructure and how conservation can help reverse climate change.
The organization has over 130 branches across the United States and is now settling its roots in Tennessee, as well as six other states.
Frist, who served two terms in Congress from 1995 to 2007, is part of a family of physicians that helped found HCA Healthcare in Nashville.
Belmont’s new medical school, which is currently under construction, will be named after Thomas F. Frist, Jr, the senator’s older brother.
But the former majority leader is striving to have his own impact on universities in Tennessee.
“Sen. Frist expressed a lot of interest in promoting this conservative, market-based environmental approach … so he was interested in partnering with us to expand our presence in Tennessee,” said ACC communications director Karly Matthews.
Frist began his partnership with ACC in early November.
“We think that with how many rivers Tennessee has, the beautiful environment that you are surrounded by, there would be kind of an enthusiasm for conservation and ultimately climate action.”
Above all, Frist wants to bring younger generations into the climate conversation so they can make change as they come to political power in America.
“My vote is to have a whole cadre of thousands of young people who can get good information about the environment and influence our policy leaders,” said Frist.
“What I’d really like to do is have a chapter on every college campus in Tennessee.”
Belmont junior and Hiking Club secretary Haiden Hill said the COVID-19 pandemic reignited her appreciation for being out in nature and made her feel that “maybe the world isn’t ending.”
“More than ever, people realized how much they like the outdoors,” Hill said.
Hill knows how important it is to bring greener practices to Belmont, even though implementing them can be an expensive commitment for universities.
“Those costs are worth taking,” she said.
Belmont has some sustainability measures already in place, but Frist’s partnership with the ACC could bring a renewed sense of passion for the environment not only to Belmont, but to students across the state.
“We are the future generation that is eventually going to hold elected office,” Matthews said. “So I think preparing that next generation for environmental leadership is really important.”
PHOTO: Former Sen. Frist speaks at the ACC Volunteer Venture launch event, Nov. 4. ACC / Taylor Christian Jones
This article was written by Sarah Maninger and David Pang.