Popular perceptions are that the Right doesn't care about the environment while the Left is obsessed with it. Figures from the Pew Research Center support that view, showing increasing polarization of the Parties, with "environmentalism" being one of the most polarizing issues.
It wasn't always this way. While even the most partisan Democrat might acknowledge the conservation ethic of Republican Teddy Roosevelt, it might be harder for Democrats to recall that much of our current environmental regulatory framework was established during Republican administrations.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 were signed by Democratic Presidents, but they owe their existence in large part to Republican John Saylor, dubbed "St. John" by the environmentalists of his day. Richard Nixon signed several key environmental laws into effect including the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), creation of the EPA (1970), Clean Air Act Extension (1970), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). San Juan County's own Bill Ruckelshaus, Republican, banned DDT (based on a risk assessment, I might add) while serving as the first EPA Administrator. And Bush 41 strengthened the Clean Air Act in 1990 (Clean Air Act Amendments).
It's perhaps a measure of how far we've fallen that we now look back at the Nixon Administration as the good old days for environmental bipartisanship. What happened? I am sure many Democrats wonder how Republican views could have changed so drastically with respect to the environment? Well, that may not be the right question because it may not be so much that Republicans have changed, but that environmentalism hasn't.
Using nature as an analogy, the environmental movement has failed to evolve, and it may be going extinct as a result. It is highly endangered within its former Republican habitat, and despite apparent vitality among Democrats, it is not assured a viable future there either. One of the few leading conservationists with the backbone to talk about the problems of modern environmentalism is Peter Kareiva of the Nature Conservancy. This is what a recent article said about Kareiva and his organization. It is reminiscent of what we face on our CAOs.
"We love the horror story. We just love it. The environmental movement has loved it. That, I think, is ... [a] strategy failure. And it's actually not supported by science."
The average age of a conservancy member is 65. The average age of a new member is 62. Each year, those numbers creep upward. Only 5 percent of the group's 1 million members are younger than 40. Among the "conservation minded" -- basically, Americans who have tried recycling -- only 8 percent recognize the group. Inspiration doesn't cut it anymore. Love of nature is receding. The '60s aren't coming back.
It's a problem confronting all large conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Quietly, these massive funds -- nicknamed the BINGOs, for "big nongovernmental organizations" -- have utterly revamped their missions, trumpeting conservation for the good it does people, rather than the other way around. "Biodiversity" is out; "clean air" is in.
"In fact, if anything, this is becoming the new orthodoxy," said Steve McCormick, the Nature Conservancy's former president. "It's widespread. Conservation International changed its mission, and it's one that Peter Kareiva could have crafted."
For these groups, it's a matter of survival. But for ecologists like Kareiva, it's science.
The County philosophy behind the rewrite of our CAOs is straight out of yesteryear, complete with horror stories, an absence of science, and an aging anti-people approach.