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February 2, 2009
Climate Change: Conservatives Abdicate, and Leave Solutions to Liberals
have a theory on why climate change today is so polarizing. The science
behind it is not terribly controversial. In fact, we rely on it to
produce a habitable planet.
reason is rooted in history, back when Ronald Reagan made Americans
believe that government is the problem. While renewing the hopes of
millions of Americans in their own country, he also instilled in the
conservative movement a distrust of regulation.
wasn’t just in regard to environmental issues, but at the time – when
the environment was relatively new upon the political scene – the only
tool really available to tackle problems was regulation.
Environmentalism became a nice surrogate in the campaign against
regulation. That represented a dramatic shift for the Republican Party,
which more and more over the next two decades found itself increasingly
controlled by its conservative element. It was completed with the
ascendancy of Tom DeLay, a man who likened the Environmental Protection
Agency, created by a Republican president, to the Gestapo.
Acknowledging a problem means acknowledging that some effort should be
put into finding a solution. Because the most popular tool at the time
was regulation, that led the anti-regulation elements of the Republican
Party to simply fight over the science that concluded that a problem
the 1980s, this was evidenced in the fight over acid rain. It’s been
repeated in the case of DDT, climate change and even second-hand smoke.
It is logically impossible to argue that a problem doesn’t exist while
also arguing in favor of a solution, which meant that as conservatives
increasingly waged an ideological war over science, the solutions being
proposed were all coming from liberals.
Because those solutions have almost always involved some kind of
government regulation, environmental issues have been tied to a stronger
state, which on the American right these days is akin to communism.
isn’t a far throw to see where this turned into a self-perpetuating
cycle. Conservatives abandon the issue, leaving liberals to propose
solutions. They look at solutions proposed, see that all of them are
based on liberal philosophy, and dismiss the issue as part of liberal
Conservatives remove themselves from discussing the issue to fighting
over the science. From that perch they look at the solutions, and . . .
well, you can see where this is going. The end result is that green
equals commie red.
Today, hostility towards environmentalism occupies a special niche on
Environmentalists themselves are casually accused of hating Western
Civilization and of wishing to live in caves. Al Gore, whose
achievements – winning part of a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar – would
ordinarily be admired, is referred to as AlGore, as if he is some kind
of monster from a Godzilla movie.
also explains why a call by Newt Gingrich a couple of years back to
co-opt the environment fell totally flat. At the time, the nation
appeared poised to enter a new age where environmental issues were taken
seriously. Since then, the economy has tumbled and the specter of
climate change has faded. A poll late last year found that most
Americans listed the environment as the last among 20 priorities while
the economy took the top slot.
fell flat because Gingrich’s party is still ideologically bound to
hostility toward environmental issues. Rather than co-opt, they’d rather
ridicule. Today, when discussing climate change – our most pressing
environmental issue – with conservatives, it is not uncommon to see
opposition put together like it was ordered off an a la carte menu.
Ideas are drawn freely from people whose conclusions may conflict with
each other in fundamental ways. What you don’t see are ideas on how to
address the underlying problem.
would require breaking out of a comfort zone established almost 30 years
ago. Staying within that cycle has produced what we have today – a lot
of shouting, but only solutions on one side.
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