The fight against the enviornment

Shorty after Ronald Reagan began his first term in office, many conservatives looked to challenge something that had an increase in popularity over the last decade and a half, environmentalism. With a red wave occurring in the 1980 election, many republicans wanted to challenge the new wave of environmentalism arguing it was bad for the economy and how many environmentalists did not support western ideas and were more drawn to the ideas of socialism. The debate over public lands and protecting the wilderness had been an issue in the United States government since the 1960s and had shifted from protecting public lands to cleaning the water and air as well as improving the dumping of toxic waste. Many groups that were mostly conservative would raise issues on these environmental changes as it would negatively affect their lives and jobs. Two of the most famous movements were known as the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use movement according to James Morton Turners, “The Specter of Environmentalism.”

The Sagebrush Rebellion was a political movement that emerged in the western United States during the 1980s. The movement was composed of a diverse coalition of ranchers, farmers, and other rural landowners who felt that the federal government’s environmental policies were excessively restrictive and infringed upon their property rights. The rebellion was a response to the United States government implementing in land use management in the western half of the United States. Many of these landowners believed the the United States government had overstepped its boundaries and was using environmental policies to stifle economic development and prevent public use of these lands. The Sagebrush Rebellion took a variety of forms, including legal challenges to federal land-use policies, protests, and other forms of direct action. Some of the movement’s most vocal leaders advocated for the transfer of federal lands to state or local control, arguing that this would allow for more effective management and greater economic development. While the movement was not a success, it raised awareness in the United States about the dangers of implementing environmental policies.

Similarly to the Sagebrush Rebellion, the Wise Use movement was a conservative political movement that sought to roll back environmental regulations and promote the unrestricted use of natural resources for economic growth and human benefit. Turner argues that the wise use movement was motivated by a deep-seated fear of environmentalism and a belief that environmental regulations were threatening the economic and social well-being of rural communities. He notes that the movement sought to redefine the meaning of environmentalism, portraying it as a radical ideology that sought to undermine American values and traditions, an ideology that embraced Eastern socialism rather than Western capitalism. The wise use movement represented a backlash against the environmental movement of the 1970s, which had succeeded in pushing for the passage of numerous environmental regulations and raising public awareness of environmental issues. The movement sought to challenge this environmentalism by promoting a vision of the American West as a land of boundless opportunity and unlimited resources, it represented the American West as the last true frontier, untapped by regulations and restrictions from the government.

According to Turner, environmentalism posed a threat to the values and interests of the New Right, which was a conservative political movement that emerged in the 1970s. The New Right saw environmentalism as a form of government overreach that threatened private property rights of citizens and the free market. They believed that environmental regulations and wilderness designations would limit economic growth and hurt industries like mining, logging, and ranching, which were important to the economies of many western states. To fight back against this environmentalism the new right would organize movements like the sagebrush rebellion to gain public support and new followers of the New Right. Ronald Reagan would be a particular supporter of these movements. When he was governor of California, he publicly supported the rebellion and he appointed the leader of these rebellions, James Watt, as his secretary of the interior. Overall the wilderness restrictions limiting mining, and logging on public lands led to an outcry by the working class of those regions, this in turn led them to join the New Right, who supported rebellions and was firmly against the environmental policies of the United States government.

One thought on “The fight against the enviornment

  1. Great Post! You made some valid points. I think it is crazy that the government thought that they were going to make the best decisions for each part of the United States, when there are people who work on these lands and know the most about the area who can make decisions to benefit the environment. It is a shame that the workers were treated in this way. However, I do believe that sometimes federal government can protect the environment, but there is more to that and they could be hurting people and their livelihood.


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