“The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.” – Thomas Paine, Common Sense
Something strange happened to the environmental movement in the last decade; what was once a bipartisan issue has now become a point of division for America. According to a Pew Research poll put out just this last Earth Day, more than 70 percent of Republican voters believed that we “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment” up until about 2005. After that, this figure starts taking a nose dive before bottoming out around the 50 percent mark, where it remains today.
The Right actually has a long legacy of environmentalism, from avid outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt creating more than 200 national parks, monuments and other protected areas to Richard Nixon signing and supporting the Clean Air Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and even creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) itself.
Even Ronald Reagan, the poster child of oblivious for getting everything from the Drug War to the Iran-Contra scandal completely backwards could see the obvious when it came to the environment:
“Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.” He said in his 1984 State of Union Address, just before proposing a huge budget increase to the EPA.
The current administration, however, is opening up our national parks and monuments to oil drilling and other forms of exploitation that they were created explicitly to be protected against. It is trying to turn back the clock and weaken federal environmental legislation the Clean Air Act—and is even dramatically cutting funding to the EPA itself. That just the cream off the top of the “dizzying” array of environmental rollbacks compiled by the Guardian in the first six months of our post-common sense regime.
How did this happen folks? And even more importantly, how do we turn this situation around before we wreak massive destruction on our home planet?
While it’s fairly obvious that those on the right who forgot that “conservation” is the action implied by the moniker “conservative” and voted in Tyrannosaurus Rex himself need to rethink some of their most basic beliefs—something already happening en masse on the Trump Regrets Twitter feed on the left need to do some serious soul searching too. After all, its takes two to tango and as the Pew poll shows, the divide over the environment has been steadily widening for some time. Trump is a symptom of this, not the cause.
The Right’s mass migration away from the environmental movement began right about the same time politician and former Vice President Al Gore came out with the movie An Inconvenient Truth which crowned global warming as the most important environmental issue facing the world, a sentiment now echoed by just about everyone on the Left.
The emphasis on this one issue has now, as several prominent progressive writers have pointed out, become imbued with religious fervor. In fact, prominent authorities on the issue—everyone from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Bill Nye the “Science Guy”—have called for jailing people who don’t believe in it, just like a modern-day Spanish Inquisition.
And this, folks, is where we lost the Right. Don’t take my word for it, climate change has been proven many times over to be to be the driving issue behind the political polarization of environmental issues in America, making one wonder if it’s not all being done on purpose.
The problem with climate change is that it’s an abstract environmental issue that requires faith in government scientists and statistics, unlike other issues that are just as important as global warming but can actually be seen with everyone’s own two eyes and simply cannot be argued with.
According to a recent article in the Guardian, for example, the fact that the world is going through a million plastic bottles a minute is “just as dangerous” as climate change, since not only is it ruining coastlines and poisoning sea life but those plastic particles are finding their way into our daily meals and therefore our bloodstream as well. Nobody can, or would, argue or deny the horror of this.
Then there is the fact that just a couple of years ago researchers warned that Brazil is pushing the mighty Amazon rainforest past a point of no return through deforestation and mega damn projects—both of which can actually be seen in real life. If the mighty Amazon goes, the whole planet goes, no matter how many carbon credits Al Gore has stacked up.
Because the right distrusts the government and their studies, and the truth is that whistleblowers continue to step forward claiming the climate change data is not just fuzzy but even rigged, the Left has labeled Republicans as anti-environmental and effectively excluded them from the movement.
Divided and conquered.
But here is the good news: according to a recent study out of the University of Oregon, conservatives actually do care just as much about the environment as the left when issues were removed from the liberal value system framing that now dominates the media—showing just how counterproductive the left’s dogma has become.
The U of O study also found overlapping values that both liberals and conservatives agreed upon when it came to the environment. Both sides of the spectrum believe strongly in our personal responsibility for the environment and the importance of local control over land and water resources as opposed to governmental control. That right there is enough to unite behind in an environmental revolution that could really save the planet.
While distrust of the government and its scientists is what makes climate change iffy to conservatives, it also is the Trump regime’s Achilles heel that can bring the whole shebang crashing down at any point. A core value of the right is to question the government, and right now there are plenty of things to question, especially on the environmental tip.
All it’s going to take is a little bit of brotherly love, folks, and a whole lot of common sense.
Main photo by Nicolas Raymond/Flickr CC BY 2.0
Lead photo by CIFOR/Flickr CC BY 2.0
Ocean Malandra writes the EarthRx column for Paste and divides his time between Northern California and South America.