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Wed Apr 22, 2020, 08:57 AM

Elizabeth Kolbert - What Little Remains Of GOP's Environmental Legacy Vanishing Into The Past

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Reagan combined a sunny faith in the future with an equally sunny indifference to facts. Running for President in 1980, he claimed that acid rain was not caused by power-plant and auto emissions, as scientists had shown, but by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, in Washington State, earlier that year. Also during the campaign, he declared that “eighty per cent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation.” Once elected, Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch—an inexperienced ideologue (and the mother of the future Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch—to head the E.P.A. Among her first moves was to propose slashing the agency’s budget by more than forty per cent. One staffer complained that morale was so low there was “no known scientific method to measure it.”

Since Reagan, control of the White House has, of course, swung between the parties, as has control of Congress. Throughout the swings, anti-environmentalism has only become that much more entrenched in G.O.P. politics. (McCloskey, it’s worth noting, switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, in 2007, at the age of seventy-nine.) A great deal of money has changed hands to help change minds; according to the Web site Open Secrets, which tracks federal campaign contributions, the oil-and-gas industry contributed nearly twenty-four million dollars to House and Senate Republicans during the past election cycle, compared with five million to Democrats.

But, according to Turner and Morton, money is only part of the equation; the other part is votes. For Republican politicians, there’s no incentive to, say, back legislation to limit climate change: “Neither their corporate donors nor evangelicals nor the struggling Rust Belt workers who voted for Trump in 2016 see any advantage to it.” The situation is such that, as Aaron Huertas, who works with WeCanVote.US, recently pointed out, were Democrats inclined to pass meaningful climate legislation, they’d need to win not just the Presidency this fall but also a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Can this situation be changed? Certainly the hour is late and the facts—if you happen to be concerned about such things—are stark. What the original Earth Day showed is that, when Americans are mobilized, remarkable things are possible. What the past few years have shown is that Americans can be mobilized by the most remarkable falsehoods. To say that the future of the world depends on which of these tendencies prevails is at this point, unfortunately, no exaggeration.

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https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/an-earth-day-reminder-of-how-the-republicans-have-forsaken-the-environment

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