It's okay for conservatives to care about the environment

Quick: Which President created the Environmental Protection Agency?  Answer: Richard Nixon.

When I was a child growing up in Southern California in the late 1960s, the smog was bad — so bad that on some days, I would experience a profound heaviness in my chest and shortness of breath, as though my lungs had been singed.  I also remember a particular television ad featuring an American Indian on horseback with a feather headdress, riding by a polluted American landscape.  The commercial concluded with a close-up showing tears running down his face.  I also remember when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969.  I was already watching the news and aware of what was going on in the broader world.  So it was a relief to me when Nixon created the EPA, even though the benefits of its regulations wouldn't bear fruit right away.

Nixon wasn't the first Republican president concerned about the environment.  That would be Theodore Roosevelt, who was a prominent advocate of the conservation movement, which was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s.  Roosevelt's environmental legacy includes the creation of many national parks and nature preserves, to protect America's natural beauty from destructive development so that it could be shared and experienced by more Americans, thus creating a broader appreciation of the importance of conservation.

Now I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was the first place in the nation to form a regional air quality district, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).  I remember attending a district-sponsored event featuring Al Gore, who did his "Inconvenient Truth" presentation.  I mention this because the warm-up man for the event was former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who pointed out that one of the people most responsible for creating the BAAQMD was a Santa Clara County supervisor who was a Republican.  Brown said something to the effect that Democrats might normally try to conceal a fact like that.  I can't remember the guy's name, though Brown mentioned it in his remarks at the time.  I tried to find it poking around the internet to no avail, so maybe there is some concealment going on.

The point is that Republicans have a history of leadership on environmental protection.  It's not something to be ashamed of.  If you're a conservative, ask yourself if it bothers you when you're driving along and see litter on the side of the highway.  Or whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster kept you up at night.  Or the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

The problem is that the environmental movement now is focused on climate change, the lower-hanging fruit having already been addressed.  Climate change is a divisive issue for many people because they don't see the direct impacts in their day-to-day lives; there's no American Indian crying on a horse in front of a polluted landscape, though some enterprising people have tried to substitute a polar bear for that purpose.  My purpose here is not to try to convince anyone of the reality of climate change, about which I have my own doubts.  I guess you can say I'm agnostic on the subject.  Instead, I would just remind everyone that the current divisiveness around climate change shouldn't scare off conservatives from the issue of environmental protection in general.  Why should Democrats get to check that box when, in fact, it was Republican leadership that got the ball rolling?  It's analogous to how Democrats claim the mantle of anti-racism when Lincoln was the one who freed the slaves.

Finally, remember that conservation stems from "conservative."  I encourage conservatives to embrace environmentalism in general as a conservative tradition, even if you think climate change is bunk.

Image via Pexels.

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