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The worship of St. Ronnie: A Bridge Too Far

by: Eric B.

Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 11:13:03 AM EST

I frequently bemoan the approach to the environment taken by the Republican Party. Used to be, a very long time ago, that the Republican Party championed things like the values of rivers and streams versus hydroelectric dams (in truth, much of this was a historical conflict between the self-interest of wealthy trout fishermen versus labor-intensive big public projects) and took seriously things like air and water pollution. Today, our rivers mostly don't catch on fire thanks to bipartisan support for the Clean Water Act that was strong enough to override a veto by Richard Nixon. That all stopped, right about 1980, when Reagan rode an anti-regulation moo into Washington. Or, as an Op-Ed writer put it in this morning's Freep...

When we look back, conservatives like Ronald Reagan have led our country’s efforts to protect natural resources. Today’s conservatives have solutions to our energy challenges, too, and that’s why we have formed the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum. The forum — intended to provide a space for conservatives to engage individuals, organizations and businesses in the conversation about Michigan’s energy future — believes that an all-of-the-above energy policy must be pursued, including developing Michigan-made clean-energy resources, such as wind and solar, and expanding energy-efficiency programs.

This isn't just bad revisionist history, it's also weird hero worship, kind of like when evangelical Christians tell you that Jesus favored bombing brown people. The idea that Reagan was pro-environment probably came from his public image as the first brush cutter in chief, a feat replicated only by the grinning nitwit son of Reagan's vice president. It wasn't just that his administration was the first to address serious environmental problems like ozone depletion, climate change and acid rain were real, but his administration also included figures like Anne Gorsuch and James G. Watt, who in administering the EPA and the Department of the Interior never met a logging, mining or ranching interest that didn't need to be as generously placated as possible.

Reagan's presidency kicked off what has been three decades of unrestrained hostility towards not just the environment but also things we learn through science that suggest that we change what we're doing on its behalf. It was during his administration that saw the rise of the right wing think tank to true prominence in Washington, where glossy, short pamphlets were churned out to sew doubt about things like second hand tobacco smoke and acid rain (here public health and the environment share a common spoke ... hostility towards science pointing in an anti-corporate direction). If you watched Marsha Blackburn yesterday insist that there is no scientific consensus on climate change*, you are watching the legacy of Ronald Reagan. There are a lot of issues which the Ronald Reagan of 1980 would not be welcome in the Republican Party of 2014, but the environment is not one of them. His administration was as hostile to existing environmental programs as as hostile to the need for new ones to address new problems as is the Republican Party of today.

*--When you point out the scientific consensus behind climate change, conservatives/climate deniers/Republicans invariably pound the table and bellow, "SCIENCE IS NOT DRIVEN BY CONSENSUS!" and then cloak themselves in the garb of Copernicus, imprisoned for having dared challenge the "scientific consensus" of his day as it related to heliocentrism (the obvious problem with this is that in Copernicus' day, scientific consensus was crafted not by the scientific method -- yet to be fully formed -- but by faith-based religious dictates). When people talk of scientific consensus, what they mean is that skepticism in science is useful, but only to the point where every reasonable question it raises has been addressed through repeated tests of the underlying hypothesis. Once that happens to everyone's satisfaction and everyone moves on to questions that haven't been answered, we say that a consensus has been reached. It's not a bad thing. It simply represents that, on climate change, everyone who is familiar with the underlying science (and not uninformed rightwing shouting points), has agreed that something has happened and are now trying to sort out what it all means. In other words, when you hear people braying about the evils of scientific consensus, it's probably coming from someone who is fairly clueless about the science but doesn't think that's any reason not to pretend that they're an expert the same as an atmospheric physicist member of the National Academies of Science.

Eric B. :: The worship of St. Ronnie: A Bridge Too Far
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A symbolic St. Ronnie gesture that speaks volumes
In 1986, President Reagan quietly removed the solar panels that President Carter had installed on the White House seven years earlier.

The Scientific American article this comment links to also had this to say about Reagan's environmental stance:

By 1986, the Reagan administration had gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy at the then-fledgling U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind turbines and solar technologies-recommitting the nation to reliance on cheap but polluting fossil fuels, often from foreign suppliers. "The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion," Reagan said during an election debate with Carter, justifying his opposition to the latter's energy policies. "It hasn't produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy."

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

From the lips of
Reagan's first Interior Secretary James Watt, the most anti-environment Secretary ever.  
"I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations."
 This guy wanted to open every acre of Federal land to drilling, mining, etc. And of course there was Anne Gorsuch, whose spent her tenure as EPA director downsizing the agency and coddling polluters.

Yeah, Reagan was a regular Rachel Carson...

Department of simile.
" ... short pamphlets were churned out to sew doubt about things like ... "

I think no needles were involved, but possibly seeds were broadcast.  (Before the advent of communications media.)

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