When a debate — any debate — isn’t going your way, it’s all too easy to disengage entirely from the discussion, rather than try to offer your own constructive solutions and respond appropriately to criticism. As we all well know, this is a common problem in our everyday lives, but it crops up often enough in politics as well. It’s particularly evident on issues where one side is fighting for positive change and the other simply wishes to maintain the status quo. In civil rights issues, for example, those opposing progress often simply wish to maintain the oppression of a minority group — they don’t offer any solutions because they don’t want to solve anything.
Other issues are much more complex — or, at least, they ought to be. Most political issues have not just one solution, but a whole variety of proposals that could address the problem at hand. Unfortunately, often one faction is successful in dominating the conversation about the issue to such an extent that their solutions seem to be the only ones available. This makes their opponents feel trapped, and so rather than offer their own ideas, they deny that something is a problem entirely.
In politics, this is disastrous if a political party behaves this way, as they’ve effectively conceded the votes of anyone who cares about the issue to the other side. Unfortunately, of late, Republicans have been behaving this way with environmental issues. Rather than offering their own ideas on how to conserve the environment, and forcefully arguing for them, they’ve been burying their heads in the sand, ignoring the issue entirely.
This wasn’t always the case. Indeed, the Republican Party has a rich history of environmental advocacy. Nationally, President Theodore Roosevelt was devoted to preserving our environment. Roosevelt represented a connection between hunters and environmentalists that has persisted throughout American history. Here in Maine, of course, Gov. Percival Baxter was a prominent advocate for conservation — his gift of land to create Baxter State Park helped inspire the establishment of the robust state park system that we now enjoy.
Unfortunately, much of this positive legacy has been overshadowed by the relatively recent and extremely bitter debate over climate change. Now, conservatives are right to ask legitimate questions about the science of the issue. After all, there have been hysterical predictions regarding the imminent destruction of various natural resources for decades now that have failed to come to fruition. However, you don’t have to ignore all concerns about the environment just because you question the validity of some.
After all, climate change aside, we all should be able to agree that it’s in our best interests to preserve the environment. Regardless of how many inane predictions or flawed studies are done, that’s a worthy public policy goal at all levels of government. Instead of challenging whether we should bother protecting the environment, conservatives should be asking more detailed questions. We must ask how we can protect the environment in a cost-effective manner that doesn’t cripple our economy and vastly increase the involvement of government in our day-to-day lives.
If Republicans don’t ask these reasonable, responsible questions of environmental advocates, it is likely that nobody will. By refusing to engage in the debate, Republicans are handing a default victory over environmental issues to the forces of big government. This isn’t their only option, however. As with other issues, conservatives have the opportunity to present solutions and earn the votes of those who care about protecting the environment. In order to get their foot in the door, though, they’ll need engage in the debate, rather than simply abandoning it.