What Would Reagan Do? Conservative Environmentalists Reclaim Climate Debate

Image credit: Cafe Press

When a liberal-bashing comment on my post about BP failing f***ing booming school drove me to ask why so many people hate environmentalists, BillW responded, as a former Republican voter, by pointing out we are being painted with a pretty broad brush. That got me thinking about politics. Because however much I try to keep my party political views at arms-length when writing about the environment, there's no doubt that the debate has gotten polarized in recent years. Just as I was pondering these matters, a press release landed in my inbox with a provocative question.

What would Reagan do? The release is part of a campaign called ClimateConservative, being run by Republicans for Environmental Protection. The campaign is running radio ads in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Alaska, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, featuring snippets from Reagan's speeches about the environment, and reminding people that conservation and environmental protection can and should be a central tenet of conservative ideology.

David Jenkins, REP's vice president for government and political affairs, casts the campaign openly as an attempt to wrestle back the conservative environmental debate from radical talk-show hosts and others on the extremes of the party:

"Radical talk radio entertainers peddle the false notion that conservatives should oppose environmental stewardship. They're wrong and there is no better way to show that they're wrong by reminding Americans about the words and actions of President Reagan."

He goes on to argue that Reagan's environmental legacy is ignored on all sides of the political spectrum:

"Too often, Reagan is not remembered for his environmental accomplishments. The political left refuses to give him the credit that he deserves, while some on the right ignore his environmental legacy because it doesn't fit with the image of Reagan that they cultivate to support their extremist agendas."

In support of the ads, the campaign is also featuring presentations by Christian Conservative climatologist, and reviewer for the IPCC Katharine Hayhoe, profiles of leading conservative conservationists, including Edmund Burke, Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater, and links to Climate Science's responses to common climate skeptic arguments—from the age-old classic "it's the sun", to the timeless "those emails revealed a hoax".

I am too young, and too English, to immediately weigh in on Reagan's environmental record, but I am delighted to see conservative Americans engaging with environmentalism as a positive concept. I've never felt that environmentalism is inherently socialist, liberal or left wing—but rather a values-based worldview that accepts our reliance on the ecosystems around us for survival.

Politics only comes in when we decide how to express our environmentalism (eg cap and trade, versus carbon taxes, versus encouraging a free market approach to clean energy, versus smashing the capitalist pig-dog system and tearing the heart out of any banker who stands in our way.) Those arguments can be heated and fierce, but once we accept that we are all environmentalists, we are arguing about methods, not goals. Hopefully that's something Reagan would be on board with.

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