Republican Olive Tree-Huggers
The association of words like hippie and tree-hugger with liberals is simply rooted in the attempt by conservatives to cede their responsibility to protect and save the environment. The derogatory nomenclature has been used as a launchpad for politicians to gain the support of fossil fuel lobbies, under the pretense of painting environmentalism as an ideology that works against economic progress and general welfare.
In the past, Republicans made vast strides towards environmentalism and conservation. Abraham Lincoln legislated the protection of Yosemite National Park, Theodore Roosevelt established bird sanctuaries and national forests, and Dwight Eisenhower created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Environmental Protection Agency, largely the principal gatekeeper of conservation efforts by the federal government, was established by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. More recently, oil and natural gas lobbies and think tanks led by powerful conservative benefactors like the Koch brothers have contributed to the anti-science sentiment that has swept the Republican mindset. A Pew Research study found that 73% of Republicans do not believe that the current period of global warming is anthropogenic in origin, a conclusion that has, on the other hand, an overwhelming consensus in climate science research and academia.
While the partisanship of the issue remains very obvious among the public, anti-environmentalism is not entirely replete among conservatives. The remaining 27% of the aforementioned Republicans is not a fraction to overlook, because a paradigm shift within the party is the only force capable of engendering lasting change. While the loss of financial backing from fossil fuel lobbies is not an appealing outcome for a Republican to face in response to their support for environmentalism, some Republicans have been more willing to accept and promote more environmentally conscious legislation. The leadership of Senator John Chafee, who was instrumental in the passing of the Clean Water Act and Superfund Act, saw the support and recognition from Republicans for Environmental Protection, now called ConservAmerica. ConservAmerica, an organization of Republican voters aiming to strengthen their party’s stance on environmental issues, also recognize the policies of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator John McCain. The group has expressed support for the two politicians’ attitudes towards climate change and praised McCain’s willingness to impose a cap and trade system to facilitate a curbing of carbon emissions.
The failure of climate change to escape its partisan divide is simply a bout of the tragedy of the commons, where people in power are enticed by the immediate economic gains of ignoring the issue, rather than having some sort of personal restraint for the common good. In the past, the left has been demonized for its promotion of policies and ideas that would sacrifice economic productivity to save the planet. It should not be the responsibility of the left, therefore, to convert the anti-environmentalists. When people are fed lies by right-wing media sources that foster skepticism and distrust in the work and research of reputable scientists, it becomes then the responsibility of the right to rectify the misinformation in their own camp.
It is interesting to note that the words conservatism and conservation are etymologically derived from the same root. The idea of putting a price on carbon is conservative in nature in that it shifts the burden away from taxpayers onto the actual entities committing the pollution. Conservatives should understand the opportunity that is incentivizing innovation and entrepreneurship in the free market for environmental solutions that are also economically productive. Those on the right apprehensive of the “hippie tree-hugger” labels must not worry about being admonished by members of their own side. Instead, those who share these environmentalist beliefs should steadfastly lead their party towards an understanding that there is a compatibility between economic prosperity and a healthy planet. Though that compatibility has continued to escape us for the most part, it is there.