NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 21, 2013

Column: Republicans need to bolster their environmental credentials

Barbara Anderson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Despite my political differences with my son – independent vs. Democrat, Romney vs. “You voted for Obama, AGAIN?!?!” – he and I do connect on some key issues. We are both social libertarians, and were both influenced by the environmentalism of Henry David Thoreau (which is not the same as the “make me a millionaire while I lecture you about global warming” environmentalism of Albert Gore Jr.).

Our family always lived a simple, low-impact life, in which we dried our clothes on a line outside or in the basement, kept the heat low. We recycled with the Boy Scouts and a nearby private-sector recycling business. Now I drag my paper/plastic/glass bins to the curb each week for town pick-up; when I visit my family I’m told these items go into bins in the garage for delivery to a private company.

When they were here last summer I had to ask them not to hand-crush their cans, which I needed uncrushed for the return machines at the store. Nevada doesn’t have a bottle bill.

I think Chip and I got environment points for our adjoining yards, which are simply mowed meadow, surrounded by wild bushes and aging trees, that critters love. Rabbits munch the clover, skunks and wild turkeys dig and peck for bugs, birds eat the berries and seeds, squirrels collect walnuts and smash their hard shells on the picnic table. After their visit here, my family stopped mowing their front yard; they’ve planted squash on one side, and let the other side go wild like ours. The backyard is already vegetable garden and bird feeders, with wild space for the quail family. Only the children’s and dog’s fenced play yard is kept mowed.

I love the way they are raising my grandchildren. Their world doesn’t revolve around television and computers. The garage is filled with bikes, skateboards, skis, kayaks. My grandson runs, my granddaughter dances. The entire family hikes and camps, in the nearby Sierra Nevada, absorbing John Muir’s appreciation of nature.

From Wikipedia: “In 1871, after Muir had lived in Yosemite for three years, Emerson, with a number of academic friends from Boston, arrived in Yosemite during a tour of the Western United States. The two men met, and according to Tallmadge, ‘Emerson was delighted to find at the end of his career the prophet-naturalist he had called for so long ago... And for Muir, Emerson’s visit came like a laying on of hands.’”

I know that feeling: shortly after moving to Massachusetts, we took our first pilgrimage to Walden Pond. Emerson, Thoreau, the early Transcendentalists: This was home. So, for Lance, was the Happy Valley when he attended UMass Amherst; he rafted on the Connecticut River, went rock climbing with his state senator, John Olver. This personal sport became one reason he now lives in the West, where he went to climb Cathedral Peak in Yosemite.

Unfortunately, while in the Happy Valley, he also picked up liberal ideas that seemed to displace the anti-government part of Thoreau’s “Walden.” So here we are, cancelling out each other’s votes for president, though I have hope that this will change if Rand Paul runs in 2016.

Here is why this family history is important in the larger scheme made up of many voters who in the end, won’t cancel each other out; they’ll elect the next president, who must be a big improvement over the present one. The environment is one issue on which the Republican Party gets a bad rap; this unfair image helps turn off voters who should at least be independent instead of Democrat.

If you watched Ken Burns’ series on the National Parks, you know that Republican president Theodore Roosevelt created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests.

When Ronald Reagan died while I was visiting Nevada, it was a chance for me to inform my family that it was Reagan who worked as California governor with Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt (also a Republican) to jointly regulate Tahoe Basin land use and conserve Tahoe’s natural resources.

And speaking of John Muir, it was Reagan who led a horse pack trip into the Sierra backcountry to announce opposition to proposed trans-Sierra highway that would have split the John Muir Trail. He also managed political compromises that established Redwood National Park. Republicans Roosevelt and Reagan were great environmentalists, and it’s time Republicans make this knowledge part of their campaigns.

My son argues that careless, wasteful consumption and environmental sustainability are incompatible. I argue that running up trillions in national debt is equally careless, and much of the government spending is wasteful.

Democrats use “the environment” as a wedge issue for power: to establish control over the productive economy and our personal lives. Republican candidates need to address my family’s conviction that a healthy ecology is necessary to maintain individual freedom. This is what a real “conservative” stands for: conserving the environment, and the economy, for future generations.

Barbara Anderson is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.