Roping in the GOP on conservation

In few policy contexts has the right’s shift rightward been more apparent, over the last few decades, than on environmental issues. Not that long ago, environmental values fit nicely within the GOP. Teddy Roosevelt created the national parks; the National Environmental Policy Act, one of our mainstay federal environmental statutes, passed the Senate unanimously, won all but 15 votes in the House, and was signed into law by Nixon. As some contemporary but outnumbered Republicans point out (Bob Inglis comes to mind), the pairing isn’t even really a stretch. After all, what’s more conservative than conservation?

Late last week, the NY Times ran a remarkable op-ed demonstrating how far backwards the GOP has rolled on issues of environmental protection. It was authored by William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman, all former EPA administrators appointed by Republican presidents. They write in defense of President Obama’s plan to step up regulation of greenhouse gases, and they take swipes at the current Republican stance on climate change along the way:

We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally. There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected. The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”

They endorse President Obama’s decision to “use his executive powers to require reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation’s power plants and spur increased investment in clean energy technology, which is inarguably the path we must follow to ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate.” But a broader aim of their piece, it is clear, is to try to shepherd the GOP flock back to the fold on issues of conservation:

As administrators of the E.P.A under Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush, we held fast to common-sense conservative principles — protecting the health of the American people, working with the best technology available and trusting in the innovation of American business and in the market to find the best solutions for the least cost.

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Reader Comments

5 Replies to “Roping in the GOP on conservation”

  1. To me what was remarkable about the op-ed was how utterly ineffectual it was. In choice of authors, style, and substance there was nothing in the op-ed that would appeal to actual Republicans. I explain this in more detail here:
    http://www.volokh.com/2013/08/03/how-not-to-convince-republicans-to-address-climate-change/
    If the goal was to make liberals feel that contemporary Republicans have migrated to the Right, mission accomplished. If the goal was to make progress on climate more likely, I’d say the piece did more harm than good,

  2. Dear Professor Hadler,
    Thanks for your honest insight. Blaming Republicans for global warming is juvenile political rhetoric. Over the last twenty years carbon dioxide emissions have increased significantly and will continue to increase, and there is nothing that anyone can do to reverse this global trend. The good news is that average global atmospheric temperature(s) have cooled during this same period. Climate hysteria is subsiding. Be thankful and have a good day.

  3. I speak as an active member of the Republican Party who has been involved in habitat restoration projects and other conservation projects for many years.

    The climate has been changing since the Earth coalesced into a sphere, and it will continue to change long after the little ants known as homo sapiens cease to crawl across it’s surface. Climate changes. Get over it.

    I’m sick to death of hysterical pleas for money from Audubon, NRDC, WWF, Sierra Club, et al infinitum. Emails from all of these organizations are now being filtered into my Spam folder. I am tired of seeing my neighbors and friends property rights eroded; they discover that they can’t build on property they own or add buildings or remodel because of some obtuse environmental restriction. I’m tired of turning off the lights in my house and saving electricity only to have the Public Utility raise my rates because everyone else is successfully conserving and their revenue has dropped.

    I’d very much like to see a discussion on environmental issues that does not hinge on hysteria, fundraising, and the art of political manipulation. Anyone up for that discussion?

  4. I don’t think it’s necessary to rope in the GOP in conservation. Many GOP, including myself, value and are engaged in promoting the importance of environmental stewardship. Paul Sabin’s recent article on the Decline of Republican Environmentalism makes some intereseting observations on the environmental divide in this country. Query whether one’s perspective depends upon one’s own world and political views (see Dan Kahan’s blog on cultural cognition) Could it also be the leftward shift of many environmentalists that has contributed to this divide? I also agree with Jonathan Adler regarding the ineffectiveness of the op-ed piece. http://conservefewell.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/the-decline-of-gop-environmentalism-or-decline-of-environmentalism-itself/

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About Cara

Cara Horowitz

Cara Horowitz is the co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. The Emmett Institute was founded as the f…

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