It wasn’t always this way. From the Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership on natural resource conservation to Richard Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and Ronald Reagan’s singing of the Montreal Protocol banning ozone-depleting chemicals, Republicans have a proud tradition of environmental stewardship. Why have they seemingly abandoned it? That question animates The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump
(Harvard University Press, 2018), a collaborative effort by acclaimed environmental historians James Morton Turner
and Andrew C. Isenberg
—who have produced an accompanying website
for educators. They draw from the latest scholarship on the rise of postwar conservatism to explore how corporate interest groups, libertarian think tanks, evangelicalism, and the GOP power center’s shift southward and westward encouraged frustration with the broadly popular legislative achievements of the 1970s and resistance to mounting a similarly robust federal response to subsequent environmental problems. The authors explore the party’s shifting positions on the management of federal lands, the protection of air and water quality, and the mitigation of climate change. They observe how discourse prizing local control, prioritizing economic concerns, and questioning scientific expertise and international cooperation grew louder and louder and helped produce a political landscape where environmental issues are defined less by technical data and more by voters’ values. But party leaders’ anti-environmentalist rhetoric has often found them out of step with their constituents, and Republican administrations from Reagan to Trump have had to scale back their assaults on the environmental state.
James Morton Turner is Associate Professor of History at Wellesley College. His first book was the award-winning The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964
(University of Washington Press, 2012). Andrew C. Isenberg is the Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. His previous books includes Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life
(Hill and Wang, 2013), Mining California: An Ecological History
(Hill and Wing, 2005), and The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750–1920
(Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin—Madison where he is researching African American environmental history in the nineteenth-century Cotton South. He is also an editor of the digital environmental magazine and podcast Edge Effects.