Lest we forget, the GOP is the Party of Teddy Roosevelt, founding father of our National Wildlife Refuge system, and Richard Nixon, who created the EPA and enacted most of our modern-day environmental laws. Yet, I hear it over and over again from my liberal friends, Republicans hate the environment.
Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, continues to wage his war on conservatives and finger-wag with his latest missive “When Did Republicans Start Hating the Environment,” over at Mother Jones. Seeking to affirm his position, Chris cites to a recent survey by ThinkProgress that 58% of congressional Republicans “refuse to accept the science of climate change.”
As one conservative, who actually likes Dr. Suess’s The Lorax, I laugh and brush off such sweeping indictments, doing my scout’s best to defend the honor of my right-leaning peeps. Yet it does seem more and more on the Right have abandoned a pro-environment agenda, in part, in reflexive opposition to environmental activists and costly big government solutions. Most Republicans tend to believe that the environment is “clean enough” and that we don’t need any more EPA job-crushing, economy busting rules. But perception is not always reality.
Jonathan Adler, a conservative voice in the wilderness, had this to say in a 2013 Duke Law Review article titled Conservative Principles for Environmental Reform,
The nation’s environmental regulatory architecture may not have changed significantly over the past few decades, but the range of environmental problems has. Regulatory measures designed to address the industrial pollution of the twentieth century are poorly suited to address the more complex and difficult challenges of the twenty-first. There is an urgent need to debate the future of environmental protection in this country. If the debate is to be productive, it needs to span the political spectrum. Therein lies a problem: It is unclear whether many on the political right are prepared to engage in serious policy discussion about the future of environmental policy. While there is no shortage of complaints about centralized government regulation, few are willing to suggest alternatives. Those on the political right have largely failed to engage in meaningful discussion about how the nation’s environmental goals may be best achieved. Perhaps as a consequence, the general premises underlying existing environmental laws have gone unchallenged and few meaningful reforms have been proposed, let alone adopted.
For some on the right, ideological opposition to greenhouse gas regulation has spawned a litmus test for scientific belief. It is certainly true that some environmental problems are exaggerated, if not illusory, and that environmental activists have a history of hyping false alarms. Yet environmental problems are real and Americans demand high levels of environmental protection. What has been lacking on the political right has been any concerted effort to challenge the dominant environmental paradigm and, in particular, the conventional view that the existence of environmental problems is a justification for increased government intervention in the economy. Both moderate “me-too”-ism and reflexive opposition accept the fundamental premise that prescriptive environmental regulation – and federal environmental regulation in particular – is a necessary response to the existence of environmental problems, but seek to resist the implications. For the former, this means just trimming ten percent off the top. For the latter, it means opposition across the board. Both sides implicitly accept the corollary that support for expanding the scope and severity of environmental regulation is a measure of one’s commitment to environmental protection. As a consequence, environmental protection is seen, almost exclusively, as a cause of the “Left,” and those who care about environmental protection are inexorably drawn toward a progressive policy agenda. This state of affairs is not sustainable. It will not lead to the adoption of sound environmental policies.
Adler advances four principles (1) do no harm (2) green through growth – essential to environmental protection (3) make the polluter pay and (4) decentralize decision-making. These principles should be easy for Republicans to grasp. Unfortunately, my sense is that many Republicans’ views on the environment are too often shaped by arm-chair pundits whose knowledge on environmental issues is next to nil and who contribute to the festering politicization of environmentalism. But lest we lay all blame at the feet of Republicans, let’s be clear. Democrats have willingly seized on the environment for political reasons and are using important issues, like climate change, as a wedge issue, so says Carolyn Lochhead a reporter for San Francisco Monitor, Democrats use climate change as wedge issue on Republicans. The new group, Climate Hawk Votes, whose board boasts of Bill McKibben and Van Jones, acknowledges using the climate debate to fan the political flames – Group tries to make climate change a winning wedge issue. Dr. Michael Mann hasn’t exactly made it any easier for Republicans to warm up to his climate theory – for those who haven’t following Mann’s lawsuit against conservative outlets, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, read Trevor Burrus’s Forbes article,”Hopefully Dr. Mann doesn’t sue me for this column.”
Notwithstanding those activists who seem hell-bent on further polluting the dialogue by toxic politics, Adler concludes, “Conservatives need to recognize that the goal of environmental protection is quite compatible with conservative principles of governance” and does not require abandoning a commitment to limited government, free enterprise or constitutional constraints. And he’s right, and more Republicans need to take that to heart and stop with the knee-jerk reaction to every environmental issue. So a closing message to my friends on the Left who truly care about environmental issues and want bipartisan solutions. My promise to you is to continue working on my side of the political aisle, but I need your help to do the same. Let’s stop with wedge politics that contribute to the toxic non-dialogue and knee-jerk reactionarism so we can begin forging better solutions for a sustainable future.