You Can't be Both a Tea Partier and an Environmentalist. Sorry.


Photo credit: ryanjreily via Flickr/CC BY

The line gets drawn somewhere, folks. Lately, I've been receiving a bunch of comments asking me to lay off the Tea Party. One quipped that "it's not like every person who believes in personal accountability and smaller government wants to strangle penguins and club pandas." He's right -- it's not like that. If you support the Tea Party, then what you're doing to the environment is much, much worse.
And it's not because the Tea Party is made up of a bunch of terrible, malevolent people -- far from it. It's just that the ideology espoused by the group is fundamentally at odds with conservationism and environmental responsibility in the modern world.

The Tea Party's Assault on the Environment

The Tea Party-led Congress has so far this term led an assault on just about every corner of the environment imaginable:

They've worked to gut the Clean Air Act. Tried to slash the EPA's budget. Sought to prevent the government from ever tackling climate change. And these are just the more outwardly controversial ones -- the laws that Tea Partiers can bogusly claim they can support while still caring about the environment. They do so by arguing things like: Climate change is a hoax, so we don't need to regulate the things that are causing it. The EPA is a bureaucratic monstrosity, and must be cut like all other branches of government. Making companies upgrade their pollution-reducing equipment would slow the economy during a recovery, and nobody wants that!

Okay, fine -- let's say we leave those "controversial" items alone (though they are in reality anything but). But we also have these:

The Tea Party-lead GOP is also working to allow mountaintop removal mining to become more widespread and less regulated. They're fighting to help open a giant uranium mine next to the Grand Canyon. They want to block or overturn rules that allow companies to spew ginormous amounts of toxic pollution into the air. They want less regulation on oil drilling and pipeline-building, despite the onslaught of recent accidents (Gulf Spill much?) that prove just how badly regulation is needed. In states across the country, they're working to overturn conservation measures that protect land and wildlife preserves. They've gone so far that the nation's traditionally Republican-leaning hunters and fishers are supremely fed up.

In the budget appropriation bill heading to Congress this week, there are no less than 39 different measures that would in one way or another dissolve or weaken environmental protections. One lawmaker called it the most "anti-environmental piece of legislation" ever to be considered by Congress.


Photo credit: Fibonnaci Blue via Flickr/CC BY

Small Government Ideology & Environmentalism

So yes. Individual Tea Party members may not harbor the instinct to murder wildlife or dump oil into pristine lakes -- the vast, vast majority certainly does not! But the policies they are advocating for -- relentlessly and vociferously -- will have the same effect. And again, it's not out of malice. It arises from the very ideology they prescribe to. The Tea Party, in its purest form, is fighting for a world with very little government -- where only the barest of civil services (law enforcement) and national defense are provided by the state, and the free market takes care of the rest.

But consider, Tea Partiers -- in that world, what happens to the environment? Who protects it? Businesses? Concerned citizens? Please. In the modern world, with our advanced capacity to extract and harvest resources, to pollute on an industrial scale, and the vast monetary incentives to do so, no private entity would stand in the way. And concerned citizens would be squashed over like a steamroller, given the resources modern corporations can muster with ease. In a market economy, natural resources and pristine wildlife are victims in the tragedy of the commons. I have not yet heard a libertarian or a Tea Partier come forward with a plausible way that the environment would be protected in such a world -- there would simply be insignificant motivation to do so.

And it's nice that most individual Tea Partiers say they care at least a little bit about the environment. I wouldn't kill a baby seal or release toxic sludge into pristine forest, they tell me. That's great! I'm glad to hear it. But honestly, I'm not so worried about you, personally. It would be nice if every American pledged to be good conservationists in their private lives -- but these days, that really doesn't get us anywhere. It's the corporations that do the industrial-scale damage, and they're not guided by a moral compass but the need to turn a profit (again, this isn't monstrous, it's simply a structural reality).


We need laws to protect stuff like this. Photo credit: glennwilliamspdx via Flickr/CC BY

Sorry, We Need the Government's Help

That's what doesn't register amongst the Tea Party, and where much of its magical thinking about the environment falls apart -- you can't protect the nation's air, water, and wildlife just by being a determined, individual citizen and guiding your personal choice towards the morally correct end. It's not enough. Part of protecting the environment in the modern era means recognizing the scope of the challenges that currently face it.

Which is why we need the government to set and enforce environmental rules. Government agencies like the EPA may be bulky, slow-moving, even a bit bloated -- but those agencies, along with the advocacy groups that push them to act, are the only true guards we've got against industrial polluters. Against a dirtier, unhealthier, less beautiful nation.

So, needless to say, until the Tea Party stops calling for the abolishment of the EPA, ceases trying to halt all-important regulations that preserve the quality of our air and water, and quits working to roll back every imaginable environmental protection on the books, I will continue to be critical of the group's aims. And one last word to anyone who still thinks that they can be both a "small government" Tea Partier and an environmentalist. Just consider again: How will you protect the nation for industrial pollution? From mountaintop removal mining? From deforestation, from the exploitation of endangered species? From toxic air pollution?

How?

Join me in the good green fight. Follow me on Twitter, and check out The Utopianist.
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Tags: Air Pollution | Congress | United States

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