Many Republicans celebrated Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday as he is considered a unifying figure who skillfully blended principle, pragmatism, and service to the nation. He was a thoughtful, traditionalist conservative who was mindful of our stewardship obligation to future generations. He preserved many wilderness areas so they could not be damaged by economic development. The way he solved two pollution problems should set an example for Republican politicians today.
During the 1980s, scientific evidence mounted that the CFCs from spray cans and refrigerants were damaging the ozone layer. The layer filters out UV light which can cause skin cancers and environmental damage. Reagan ignored the political disputes, the ideological posturing, and the claims of economic disaster – and followed the advice of the scientists. He signed into effect the Montreal protocol, banning emissions of CFCs into the atmosphere. The economic catastrophes never came to pass and the ozone layer is recovering.
When Canada became alarmed that emissions from Northeastern power plants were drifting into Canada and acidifying their lakes, Reagan proposed a market solution to the problem. He devised a cap-and-trade system whereby polluters had to pay by buying credits while companies who reduced their pollution would receive credits. In spite of initial complaints, the system worked well and it cost far less than the power companies claimed it would – and none went out of business.
The scientific evidence has become clear and convincing that man’s release of CO2 is causing our climate to change, endangering the environment and the health of future generations. Yet, many of our leaders are unwilling to accept the scientific evidence. The industries involved are saying it will be too costly, and some are claiming it will ruin our economy. The cap-and-trade system put forward to address the problem is stalled by political controversies. Our current Congressional leaders, particularly those who would ignore science or derogatorily call Reagan’s system “cap-and -tax”, should look to Reagan as an example.