The Conservative as Environmentalist: From Goldwater and the Early Reagan to the 21st Century

We often think of conservatives as opposed to environmental regulation. Yet it has not always been so. Conservative icons like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater took vigorous public stands in favor of environmental protection, as did Ronald Reagan while he was governor of California. Ronald Reagan shifted to a sharply anti-regulatory stance in the early years of his presidency, but then shifted again to a more moderate position. Reagan personally championed the international ozone agreement and signed a law to require planning for possible climate change. Even today, there are important conservative voices advocating environmental initiatives such as a carbon tax.

This Article recovers the forgotten history of conservative environmentalism. It argues that conservative environmentalism faded largely because of external political forces, such as the influence of the fossil-fuel industry. These forces may weaken due to several trends, opening the door for a more constructive public discourse about environmental policy.