Romney’s Vice Presidential Pick Favors Increased Drilling and the Dismantling of Environmental Protections
As Josh McDaniel’s recent article in E highlighted, the 2012 presidential election poses a major threat to decades of progress the environmental movement has made. Not only were last spring’s Republican primaries spattered with calls to roll back environmental regulation, including eliminating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entirely, but they were won by a GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who backtracked on his past acknowledgement of anthropogenic climate change.
More recently, the Romney ticket has attacked renewable energy and defended increased fossil fuel production. And, in what was perhaps his most widely viewed anti-climate spectacle, governor Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention mocked President Obama’s stated commitment to mitigate the effects of climate change.
But Romney’s policy positions, sponsored by the oil, coal, and gas lobbies, do not carry nearly as much ideological and philosophical significance as those of his vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan. When Ryan was chosen as Romney’s running mate, environmental journalists quickly set about examining his record on environmental issues. Although Ryan is a self-described “avid outdoorsman,” he has an abysmal voting record on protecting the outdoors.
Voting Against the Earth
In the early 2000s, Ryan voted against continuing protection of critical habitat for endangered species while voting in favor of relaxing forestry regulations and introducing oil production in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. On energy and climate change, Ryan’s record is just as bad: He voted against tax credits for renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, as well as against the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
While this kind of record is common among many congressional Republicans—especially those who, like Ryan, served under President George W. Bush—Paul Ryan accompanies it with a zealous adherence to economic philosophies that have made him the darling of his party. Ryan has said on numerous occasions that philosopher Ayn Rand, champion of extreme ideas of individualism and founder of the controversial Objectivist school of thought, was a major influence on his involvement in public service.
Indeed, Ryan’s proposed budget, which would seek to shrink the federal government by dismantling welfare programs while simultaneously cutting tax rates on large corporations and wealthy individuals, coincides with many of Rand’s ideas. Welfare, according to both Ryan and Rand, keeps the impoverished attached to government like parasites. And taxes, under this ideology, are just a method of redistributing wealth by taking from the productive class and giving to those who don’t deserve it.
Ryan has backed away from Objectivism in recent years, likely because his Catholic faith clashes with Ayn Rand’s positions on religion and abortion rights (she was a pro-choice atheist). But he has retained an alliance with her views on socioeconomic divisions, mainly that individuals, not wealthy or powerful institutions, are responsible for pulling themselves up out of any background of poverty and injustice. Ryan’s Randianism thus opposes collectivism—social and economic policies that try to share benefits and burdens across society—in any form.
The U.S. Exception
This is where Ryan’s anti-environmental voting record comes in. According to many right-wing thinkers who dispute environmental science without offering contrasting scientific data, environmentally minded voters and activists are prime examples of the evils of collectivism. Indeed, acknowledgement of the planet’s limited resources and the impact the human species has on the biosphere does place us all in the same boat, dismantling cultural distinctions between so-called productive and unproductive members of society as relevant only insofar as progress can be made in solving global environmental crises. Ryan is against this kind of approach, representing a neo-conservative stance that the U.S. is morally exceptional and ought not to worry about the global effects of the resource extraction and industrial operations that support our unsustainable lifestyle. These ideas hamper basic models of environmental mismanagement, such as the tragedy of the commons, with claims that it is unjust for any American individual or institution to face limits on the resources it has access to, especially if those limits come from the government.
Environmentalists should be disturbed by this method of thinking, not only in the face of vast amounts of scientific data supporting climate change but also as smaller-scale tragedies of the commons unfold across the world. One need not look further than the U.S. to find alarming aquifer depletion in the Midwest, caused, in part, by water rights policies that incentivize agribusinesses to extract as much water as they can. The World Water Council describes in its platform how universal recognition of a right to freshwater is one of the most powerful solutions to water shortage crises, but such a right could only be enforced through international institutions. Other environmental and social justice organizations have put forward similar solutions, most of which would require stricter governmental regulation and international law.
These kinds of policies, supported by scientists and human rights advocates, contrast drastically with Randian individualism and free-market economics. But centuries of global environmental destruction have shown us that these crises cannot be solved by vague ideas of utopian economic freedom, and especially not by the select few to whom wealth flows in such a system. Only collective action is a powerful enough solution, the kind of action that radical conservatives like Paul Ryan oppose on principle. Environmentalism is not at philosophical odds with capitalism, but it is anathema to conservative economics, especially Randian Objectivism.
It should be noted that, like all politicians, Ryan has not voted consistently in accordance with his stated ideology. Denouncing government stimulus as an ineffective way of creating jobs, and attacking green jobs Obama’s stimulus sought to create as “picking winners and losers,” Ryan himself asked for stimulus money to aid his own district. And while he has similarly berated President Obama’s support of subsidies for renewal energy production as government interference in an otherwise free economy, Ryan has long been a supporter of the continued funneling of billions in taxpayer money to oil companies. It seems that governmental interference in the economy is fine as long as it benefits the Romney-Ryan campaign.