Anti-environmentalism and the New Right

The Sagebrush Rebellion and Wise Use were both movements that were meant to oppose the environmentalists. Many conservatives at the time had come to view environmentalism less as protecting the environment and more as a political and social rallying point for liberals and their counterculture. The Sagebrush Rebellion and Wise Use were the responses to “the way environmental decisions were made, the role of the federal government in environmental protection, and the consequences that had for free enterprise and private property owners” (Turner). However, the two movements had numerous differences that impacted how well their messages were received. 

The Sagebrush Rebellion was a protest against public lands reform supported by the natural resource industries, western citizens, and the local and state governments in the West. They felt that the federal government was imposing on citizen’s rights, western self-determination, and the West’s traditional values. As a result, they focused the Sagebrush Rebellion on the transfer of federal lands to the states, and tried to use their allies in the Reagan administration to accomplish their goals. However, the movement largely remained regional. Its focus on states’ rights with environmental reform never quite resonated with the New Right at a national level. Also, the attention on state’s rights and the interests of industry instead of the interests of the rural citizens in the West who were being affected gave the environmentalists a valid reason to dismiss the rebels as proponents of special interests, rather than the public interest. 

The Wise Use movement, on the other hand, succeeded in restructuring how anti-environmental politics worked in the late 1980s. It included the same spectrum of people as the Sagebrush Rebellion, but it focused more on encouraging citizens’ involvement and their claims to constitutional rights. This meant that instead of basing the movement on opposing something, their emphasis on grassroots organizing showed that they were for something: the citizens of the West. These battles over public lands in the West and the role of the conservatives played a role in shaping the New Right and the conservative Republican takeover of Congress in the mid-1990s. This happened as a parallel of the Wise Use movement in that the New Right also adopted a new focus on “their own positive rights-based claims to individual liberty and property” (Turner). The movements were also organized by the emerging groups that became the New Right: conservative citizens, corporations, and think tanks.

I liked this article because of the way that it considers politics through the lense of environmentalism. Normally when I think of the most polarizing partisan topics, I think of things like gun control or abortion, or just things that I see the most amount of attention being put on. After reading about it though, it was crazy to me how big of a role people’s opinions of environmentalism played in shaping the political parties. I also thought it was really interesting how people’s thoughts on the environmentalists changed once they started using science and economic analysis to back their goals because it felt like they were too detached from the people that were being affected by what they were advocating for.

One thought on “Anti-environmentalism and the New Right

  1. Great post! I really agree with the comment you made about how looking through the lenses of environmentalism to see the difference in viewpoints of political parties. I do think there is a connection between the conservative view of environmentalism and how they wanted it to be the state’s right to decide what to do with the land, and other conservative viewpoints. I also thought the point you made about how the Wise Use movement was successful as compared to the Sagebrush Rebellion because it focused on citizen’s claims to their constitutional rights, which got a vast amount of people involved.


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