What would Reagan do about climate change?

Whether revisionist or reality-based, Republicans for Environmental Protection is running their ads in the wrong media markets.

You are worried about what man has done and is doing to this magical planet that God gave us. And I share your concern.  What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live….

This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.

Those 1984 words from President Reagan serve as the basis for one of the new ads in a radio campaign launched by Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP):


Sounds great, until you remember that President Reagan almost single-handedly killed America’s global leadership in renewable energy (see “Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan“).  Yes, he did help save the ozone layer, as REP points out:

“With talk radio personalities constantly peddling an anti-stewardship message under the guise of conservatism, it is a good time for a reminder about President Reagan’s legacy as a good steward of our environment,” David Jenkins, REP’s vice president for government and political affairs, said.

We especially want people to remember Reagan’s leadership in negotiating the Montreal Protocol treaty, which began the phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals and has done more to safeguard the earth’s atmosphere than any other law or treaty ever passed,” Jim DiPeso, REP’s vice president for policy and communication, said.

“Too often, Reagan is not remembered for his environmental accomplishments. The political left refuses to give him the credit that he deserves, while some on the right ignore his environmental legacy because it doesn’t fit with the image of Reagan that they cultivate to support their own agendas,” Jenkins said.

Reagan certainly deserve credit for that important achievement (see “Lest We Forget Montreal“).  He did assert leadership and overrule his advisers, as Richard Benedick, Reagan’s chief ozone negotiator, explained in a 2005 Senate hearing:

Nevertheless, after contentious international negotiations, compounded by unexpected late controversy from within the U.S. administration, a strong control treaty was signed in Montreal in September 1987.  The treaty signing attracted worldwide media attention, and it was hailed in the United States Senate as “the most significant international environmental agreement in history.”   President Reagan became the first head of state to endorse the Montreal Protocol, pronouncing it “a monumental achievement of science and diplomacy,”  and the treaty was unanimously ratified by the Senate.

Had Reagan followed the advice of his hard-core anti-environmental advisers, who knows what might’ve happened to the ozone layer?

But taking on CFCs didn’t require taking on the fossil fuel industry or promoting clean energy — two things Reagan could not abide.  Thanks the modern conservatives, the chances are essentially nonexistent that we’ll leave our children the world “either as we found it or better than we found it” (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“).

Certainly modern conservatives no longer try to conserve vital things that might matter to their children and grandchildren like fresh water or natural resources or soils or fisheries or livable climate.  And Reagan often talked a good game, as these two other REP ads make clear:


If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.


Yet, as the LA Times reports:

Some environmentalists thought the ads were an April Fools’ joke. “They must believe, as author Gore Vidal put it, that we live in the United States of Amnesia,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

No matter how you look at the ads, REP appears to be wasting its money based on where they are running them:

REP’s ads began airing during the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck shows on the following stations: WGIR (610 AM) Manchester/Nashua, WGIN (930 AM) Rochester, WQSO (96.7 FM) Portsmouth, WKBK (1290 AM) Keene, and WNTK (99.7 FM) New London

C’mon!  What’s the point of running ads during Limbaugh and Beck, who air nonstop disinformation on climate science and the clean energy bill?  You couldn’t possibly move the needle on their listeners:

Assuming these ads could work anywhere, they only makes sense for whatever persuadable independents and former Reagan Democrats there are in media markets that aren’t saturated with disinformation.

But what do you think?  Do these ads make sense, and if so where should they be run?

Related Posts:

If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.

23 Responses to What would Reagan do about climate change?

  1. Dan says:

    Didn’t Reagan continuously stall on acid rain and power plant regulation? I’d be interested in hearing others’ opinions.

  2. mike roddy says:

    Reagan’s record was certainly mixed, but that’s an indicator of how things have changed. Compared to any current Republicans, Reagan was an ecoterrorist.

  3. Ivy Bear says:

    Reagan was an abomination on the environment. Remember James Watt? Remember Ann Gorsuch? This was an administration hell bent on dismantling environmental protections. The Grace Commission attacked anything that smacked of regulation. This is the guy that said trees cause pollution! The only reason he backed off was the protests from environmental groups and their swelling memberships. Using Reagan as a responsible spokesperson for environmental protection is a really stupid idea. To get a good republican on the environment, you need to go back to Teddy Roosevelt. I’m afraid the REP group is pretty clueless.

  4. paulm says:

    What will Obama do? The only realistic answer to the predicament (gentle a term) we find ourselves in, is basically that of Dr. Hansen…

    Obama’s Second Chance on the Predominant Moral Issue of This Century

    President Obama was right to abandon the 192-nation debate. The need is for an agreement between the two dominant emitters: the United States and China.

    China will never agree to the “cap” approach that Congress favors. Developing nations will not cap their economies. But China is willing to negotiate a carbon price. How can I say that with confidence?

    China is making enormous investments in nuclear power, wind power, and solar power. They want to avoid the fossil fuel addiction of the United States. They want to clean up their atmosphere and water. They want to protect the several hundred million Chinese living near sea level. They know that their clean fuels will win out only if fossil fuels are made to pay for damages that they cause.

    Once the United States and China agree on a carbon price, most other nations will accept the same. Products made by nations that do not have a carbon price can be charged an equivalent duty under existing rules of the World Trade Organization. That will convince most nations to join, so they can collect the tax themselves.

  5. BillD says:

    Yes, those of us who remember James Watt, Ann Gorsuch and pollution-causing trees know that Reagan was strongly anti-environment. I always cringed at Reagan’s propensity for ignorning any facts that stood in his way of his ideology. He seemed like the model for anti-science Republicans. Acid rain is a good case in point.

  6. Russ H says:

    We actually know what Reagan did with climate change, it is a matter of history rather than conjecture because President Carter commissioned the guys at JASON to investigate AGW and they reported their findings in 1982 to Reagan. Reagan buried their report because of the perceived threat to the US economy. Same old tune is playing now except now we have better technology to deal with it.

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    REP quoted Ronald Reagan: “What is a conservative after all but one who conserves …”

    Well, taking Ronald Reagan as an example, one would have to say that a “conservative” is one who is a bought-and-paid-for conscienceless lying stooge for the most ruthless, rapacious, relentless and reactionary elements of America’s corporate oligarchy.

    If Ronald Reagan were alive today he would be spouting ExxonMobil-scripted denialist BS with a grade-B movie actor’s smug and unctuous aplomb that James Inhofe could only envy, and collecting a big fat paycheck for doing so.

  8. Richard Brenne says:

    Ivy Bear (#3) –

    You always make great comments and I agree with everything in this one with one caveat about having to go back as far as Teddy Roosevelt to get a good Republican on the environment. Compared to most presidents, Richard Nixon did a lot for the environment.

    Of course I’m no Nixon fan about Southeast Asia, Watergate and its cover-up and his other abuses of power, but he did sign the Clean Air Act and create the EPA. Together with helping to open China, furthering detente with the USSR, creating OSHA, his earned income tax credit and welfare reform, he’s probably been more progressive than any president since (hopefully Obama can change that), it’s just that Reagan did more than anyone to move the country so far to the right that even most current progressives are often right of Nixon.

    Indian historians have told me Nixon was the president most helpful to Indians and Al Bartlett tells me he’s the only one to address overpopulation in any meaningful way.

    In every case there was a grassroots movement that formed a parade that Nixon, as a crafty politician, then agreed to lead. (And remember he largely inherited Lyndon Johnson’s Congress.)

    Thus we need these grassroots movements around renewable energy and everything related and we need responsive and bold politicians that will get out and lead those parades.

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    And about Ronald Regan’s environmental legacy:

    On April 18, 1977 President Jimmy Carter gave a speech about our running out of oil and natural gas and the need for renewable energy:

    Everything Carter said except reliance on coal (remember in 1977 there wasn’t anywhere near the consensus about global warming even among scientists that there would be just over a decade later in 1988) could be applied to climate change as well.

    Carter put solar panels on the White House and visited what is today the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, touching the solar panels while lightning struck nearby (I asked then-NREL director on one of my panels, “Did it ever occur to you that you might have electrocuted the wrong president?”).

    Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House (a friend of mine took them and has his college storing them) and did everything he could to kill all forms of renewable energy and promote fossil fuels.

    Earlier as governor of California he promoted the cutting of redwood trees, infamously saying “If you’ve seen one redwood tree you’ve seen them all.”

    It is only because Alaskan and Gulf oil increased during his presidency (while North Sea oil came on line and fueled Thatcher’s government at the same time) that oil prices dropped (also due to recession) while they had skyrocketed before and during Carter’s, beginning with the 1973 Arab Oil embargo (as punishment to the U.S. for supporting Israel in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War) and due to other events beyond Carter’s or anyone’s control.

    If you transposed oil prices during their administrations it would also transpose the views of many about Carter and Reagan. Carter’s character has been revealed by all his tireless work since his administration.

    Reagan’s character should be known also. Because he set the nation on a new course away from the character and sacrifice Carter asked for to pure greed and selfishness, even maybe more than the Bushes who continued in the direction he set, Ronald Reagan will one day appropriately be viewed by educated people as the single most destructive person Earth’s environment has ever known.

    Despite how these current Reps try to spin things, one notable international accord does not change that.

  10. mike roddy says:


    Interesting thought about China and the US signing a bilateral carbon price agreement, with teeth. Maybe India should join, too. Russia won’t sign, but it may not hurt to isolate them. If Russia chooses to focus on things like Arctic oil, they will end up like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, a dysfunctional and autocratic petro state.

    And maybe you’re ahead of most of us in considering gatherings like Copenhagen too much like the UN General Assembly- not exactly a body to get important business done, which is left to administrative arms like UNESCO and the Security Council.

  11. Reagan was bad news, and his Administration only moved on ozone because Dow was ready with substitutes that could beat out foreign competitors. Still, he showed some tiny element of flexibility.

    I’d run these ads in South Carolina to support Lindsey Graham, and anywhere else where a Republican might actually do something good about climate change.

  12. dhogaza says:

    The only reason he backed off was the protests from environmental groups and their swelling memberships.

    Including the National Wildlife Federation, which nearly broke with tradition, threatening to refuse to endorse Reagan for a second term if he didn’t ditch Watts (interesting last name, isn’t it, Tony?)

    Along with favoring the harvest of old growth redwoods, The USFS under Reagan aggressively increased PNW harvest levels on national forests, levels that could only be achieved by greatly increasing the volume of old-growth conifers harvested annually. During the Reagan years, harvest on PNW national forests was about twice the sustained yield levels mandated by the National Forest Management Act. All this landed on Bush Elder’s lap when he became president, and conservationists won a federal injunction against old-growth harvest. Bush Elder left that mess to Clinton to clean up.

    Other comments around Nixon, who I also loathed because of his policies in SE Asia (and for being a lying, paranoid, unscrupulous lout, come to think of it). He toyed with the idea of a negative income tax to umm transfer wealth from those who have to those on the very bottom of society. And of course he was open to a private-government partnership providing near universal health care, a compromise Teddy Kennedy turned down because he thought he’d be able to get something more extensive and better (turning this offer down was something he regretted in his later years

  13. Ivy Bear says:

    Richard (#8) Remember that Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, and it was approved over his veto. He also appointed Dixie Lee Ray as head of the Atomic Energy Commission, and pushed relentlessly for nuclear power. So Nixon was no saint. But I have to agree that we made a lot of progress when Nixon was present. But absent the strong environmental movement, would he have done anything? I doubt it. On the other hand, Roosevelt defied the will of Congress and established numerous national forests and national parks, all at a time when there was virtually no large scale environmental movement. So if I had to choose, Teddy wins, hands down!

  14. Mike says:

    I think need all the help we can get.

    “[T]he problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level.”

    Margaret Thatcher, 1989

  15. John Mashey says:

    1) I’ve been watching REP for a while, and I think people who support this blog should act favorably towards REP. This is relatively clever marketing on REP’s part, although whether running it with those shows or not, I don’t know…

    2) The point is *not* what Reagan actually did, it’s that quoting what he *said* might well attract some people who didn’t really know all that history, but view him favorably. Put another way, there is some set of people for whom the message:

    a) Reagan did X, Y, Z … acomplishes nothing.
    b) Reagan said “A conservative conserves…” *might* actually stir some thought.

  16. Peter Sergienko says:

    These are advertisements and therefore have only a nodding acquaintance with the truth. Thus, this isn’t about Reagan as environmentalist in an absolute sense. Rather, I think this is test-marketing to see whether or not claiming the Reagan mantle on this issue flies with Republicans and conservative independents who identify as Reaganites. By running ads in these markets during these programs a decent proportion of the target market is likely reached.

    Assuming that the sincere goal is to create political space for Republication participation in the development and passage of effective climate legislation, the ads should be run in markets with Republican and perhaps conservative Democratic senators who might be convinced to support such legislation. Maine and South Carolina come to mind immediately. Joe has posted previously on Republican senators who are “in play” on this issue. Their states should be priorities for these ads. I have no clue which shows or stations should be targeted for ad buys. You’ve got to meet your people where they are, though, and conservatives are listening to conservative talk radio.

    Substantively, I dislike the ad that equates doing nothing with leftist ideology. I also agree with all the commentary here on Reagan’s environmentalism. None of the ads are particularly truthful for that reason. However, I’m not the target market. Casting Reagan as a conservative who would act on climate change could be a potentially effective strategy for this group and their target market.

    Is it a sad commentary on our current politics that I’m surprised to learn there is an organized group called Republicans for Environmental Protection?

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Ivy Bear (#13) – Good points all (you must be an Ivy League Bear) and I agree. Taking things in a new direction is most important of all, and Roosevelt did all the things you mention to the good. Roosevelt was a progressive at home while an imperialist abroad, even a war monger until his son was killed in WWI.

    Reagan and the Bushes appeared to want to outdo TR’s imperialism and war-mongering and undo his progressivism; in fact they’ve appeared to want to undo the enlightenment as well.

    It’s just that there was some impressive environmental stewardship under Republican Nixon (and less under Ike and Ford) between then and now.

    And Reagan’s taking virtually everything in exactly the wrong direction runs counter to the PR these current Reps are spinning, while TR no doubt spins like a top in his grave.

  18. Richard Brenne says:

    The quality of comments here is much higher than any major newspaper’s op-ed page. I essentially agree with all the well-made points here.

    I’m a bit of a history nut (some describe me without including the word history) and wanted to set the record as straight as possible.

    That being done by many others as well (or better!), first Brian (#11 – and you’re right about running these to support Lindsey in the Graham Cracker state), then Mike (#14), John (#15), and Peter (#16) are all right – we need to take all the positives and allies we can to get a climate bill passed. We might be completely candid here and skillfully supportive of these Reps in an op-ed or letter to the editor.

    Anyone here a professor or author on history, poly sci, or related fields (because you all sure sound like it)?

  19. Mike#22 says:

    Invoking Ronald Reagan as an Environmentalist and pointing this (construct) at Rush et al is beautiful.

  20. Leif says:

    I would like to emphasize some points made by other commentators above.

    Judging from Reagan’s past actions it is quite clear what he would be doing today. He would be as staunch a denier/anti-science promoter as any out there. However if it gives cover to some to think otherwise and promotes global warming awareness… what is one more lie in the denier-sphere.

  21. Thomas Young says:

    “We the People” Will Awaken Our Dormant American Dream
    With Republicans for Environmental Protection

    America, let’s Wake Up! In 1988 our Ronald Reagan Administration asked the United Nations to rally enough lands together to approve their denier-designed “intergovernmental mechanism” to learn if human greenhouse gases cause climate change. (See Spencer Weart, “Government: The View from Washington, DC,” July 2009, Reagan’s resulting IPCC, unlike the former intergovernmental agency that produced the Montreal Protocol to save the world from increasing Ozone Hole peril, birthed this lasting Age of Reagan legacy: intrusive governmental interference to preserve property rights over humans rights in life-or-death decision-making. His Party loves pro-life values in about the same fashion the Pharisees loved Jesus of Nazareth. That does not engender an uplifting environmental legacy….
    Ronald Reagan’s IPCC, by design, sabotages common sense. It relies upon absolute democracy (every single voting member must support a proposal or it fails). The Reagan Administration wanted “every interested government” to argue and disagree over human-generated climate change to create confusion and doubt. That’s what happens when disagreeing people discuss vital issues with every single player holding total veto power. Yes, Ronald Reagan purposefully created the most inefficient government bureaucracy over a life-or death matter in human history. That conclusion, after being swamped in triumphal pro-life, business efficiency Republican campaign commercials for 30 years sounds nonsensical; but it worked as designed—US fossil fuel corporations have happily sold tens of trillions of dollars worth of potentially forsaken energy since 1988.
    If wrestling with the meaning behind denier Republicans executing God’s Creation for profit, Republicans for Environmental Protection’s message can open voters’ eyes to the denial of these two core Republican values: 1.) the GOP kills humanity’s innate grasp of God (see Romans 1:20) by actively advancing climate changes; and 2.) fossil fuel’s Corporate Welfare ruins an Adam Smith style full-cost free market framework. Excessive Republican misrule extends beyond bad government to reject rather than conserve the American mission—the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” entitle each individual to “unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The founders encoded that cherished Declaration of Independence commitment in the Ninth Amendment.
    The time now, consequently, has arrived for another conservative American Revolution. Bless the REP! They have suffered under Republican misrule, but still try. Perhaps like Abraham Lincoln’s 1850’s Whigs, REP’s blooms shall seed a new party of promise. Lincoln’s Wigs ducked, delayed dealing with or denied the centrality of that day’s determining issue(slavery). Today, the REP, Charlie Crist, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lindsay Graham might just stand for God, country and honor. With God’s help, 2010 will remind historians of the 1858 Whigs. Will it prove the last US election featuring formidable Republican challengers. Many voters believe in Christianity, truthful investigation, environmental health, economic opportunity and justice. The long-dormant American Dream need not awaken as some spooky right-wing nightmare of end times wara. So, perhaps by making life look so unbearable, Ronald Reagan’s reputation will rest on his nourishing another conservative American Revolution.

  22. substanti8 says:

    I love it.  If nothing else, the ads will keep Limbaugh and his ilk momentarily busy, fighting over the memory of their ideological icon.

    The Reagan presidency was not about facts and logical reasoning.  (Remember “trees cause pollution”?)  It was, instead, all about ideology and imagery – especially under the guidance of Michael Deaver, Reagan’s propaganda director.

    So the details of the Reagan record don’t matter much to those who admired the man.  The bottom line is that the radio ads convey a conservative image in support of climate science.