They are not. The premise that underpins this question is not based on reality.
Take a guess who said the following line?
"It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways. The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto. Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above, leading in turn to change in the world's climate, which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all."
No its not Al Gore, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi but none other than the Iron Lady herself - Margaret Thatcher - one of Conservatism’s Great Icons.
Yes, conservatives can indeed be environmentalists and the notion that conservatives are anti-environment is a misreading of history.
Check out -
However one quote does not make a case. Lets look at the record then of four Republican Presidents in post-War United States for example
(For those of you who wish to dig deeper into the GOP and its environmental history. There is a great essay here on Teddy Roosevelt -(arguably the granddaddy of American Environmentalism in).
Dwight D. Eisenhower -During Ike’s term in office (1953–1960) when environmental issues were not as apparent on the political landscape the former General and World War II figure established the Arctic National Wildlife Range that safeguarded nine million acres of pristine land in Alaska from exploitation. He followed this up with legislation that was passed in 1958 to provide more funding for the acquisition of wildlife refuges.
Richard M. Nixon - Nixon was a great environmentalist. He set up the EPA in 1970 with the Clean Air Act, worked to halt dumping in the Great Lakes, and championed a $10 billion nationwide clean water program (1970).
Here was the proposed mandate for the EPA.
- Identify pollutants.
- Trace them through the entire ecological chain, observing and recording changes in form as they occur.
- Determine the impact of man and his environment.
- Examine interactions among forms of pollution.
- Identify where in the ecological chain interdiction would be most appropriate
In his 1970 State of the Union Address regarding the Clean Water Act. Nixon had this to say:
It is not a program for just one year. A year's plan in this field is no plan at all. This is a time to look ahead not a year, but 5 years or 10 years--whatever time is required to do the job. I shall propose to this Congress a $10 billion nationwide clean waters program to put modern municipal waste treatment plants in every place in America where they are needed to make our waters clean again, and do it now. We have the industrial capacity, if we begin now, to build them all within 5 years. This program will get them built within 5 years.
Ronald Reagan - Ronald Reagan has received much criticism for his environmental policies. He did indeed clash with the EPA however he always considered himself an environmentalist at heart. His approach was rooted in common sense. Reagan was not a fan of the command-and-control regulatory approach favored by his predecessors. He took a different philosophy arguing that Free Enterprise was the key to a better environment.
Technology and innovation should play a key role in improving the environment and indeed this way of thinking has become the mainstay of Techno-Optimistic Environmentalism. See
Here are some of the successes during Reagan’s term in office (1981–1988)
- the Elimination of new lead production;
- the reduction of carbon monoxide production by a quarter;
- a fall in 40% of particulate pollution;
- he actively advanced the Montreal Protocol that championed action to phase out the production of chemicals that promote Ozone depletion (technological solutions arising from this Protocol have largely been successful);
George H.W. Bush - As an avid fisherman Bush Sr. was concerned about the environment. However he was not a fan of onerous regulation that had the potential for job loss and believed in balancing the economy with the environment. Like Reagan he took a more practical approach.
Here are his achievements
- Strict enforcement of the Clean Waters Act - Bush was very concerned that no wetlands would be lost on his watch (issued the Wetlands manual);
- Promotion of Acid Rain Trading program (largely considered successful - there has been an 88% reduction in sulfur dioxide levels from 1990 to 2018);
- Amendment of Clean Air Act (Pollution Prevention Act 1990);
Bush’s opinion on the environment is best encapsulated by his ‘millions of small decisions approach’ that he expressed here during the Presidential Environmental Youth Awards
"If it's true, as some say, that we're all borrowing the earth from future generations, it's also true that the earth will be preserved by millions of small decisions made every day by every one of us. And they're the kind of small decisions that make a world of difference, whether it's recycling aluminum cans, conserving water, turning off a lightbulb, even just keeping the refrigerator door closed."
In looking at the record of these Presidents and other conservative politicians -). It is evident that most conservatives do care deeply about the environment.
The difference in comparison with modern day progressives is that conservatives are more interested in market solutions to these problems and are loathe to follow through with ‘big government’ initiatives that all too often have a substantial negative economic impact with poorly realized benefits.Pragmatism is the driver.
In fact Red States have been at the forefront of wind technology, especially when the economic case can be aligned with that of the environmental.
Environmental Issues are complex and should transcend ideology, damning one side or another for a different approach is not helpful. The challenges ahead are great. A focus on doctrinal purity in an area ultimately driven by science, will create more problems then is warranted.
For Conservative groups focused on the environment as well as more articles on Green conservatism check out: