Stephen Dworkin

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Paul Ryan’s Anti-Green Ideology

Romney's Vice Presidential Pick Favors Increased Drilling and the Dismantling of Environmental Protections

September 24, 2012 | Stephen Dworkin | 2012 election
paul ryan
Paul Ryan represents 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.
Gage Skidmore

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.


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Posted by mel on Sep 25, 2012

He shares the same ideology as his primary Mitt Romney. How can anyone in their right minds consider these 2 to lead the country when they a oppose federal support for renewable energy technologies?

Posted by MAtthew on Sep 26, 2012

I think the idea is that free trade will take care of itself. The problem with the issue is not renewable energy technologies for Ryan/Romney, it’s big government involvement. Believe it or not, Ron Paul taught Romney how to think over the years, and Romney is actually listening. That’s a good thing. The problem they seem to have is not environment issue, it’s big government taking ownership of it. When government takes it over, it takes away the right and ability of the people to do anything themselves. Need to think about that.

Posted by Jim Polichak on Sep 26, 2012

One problem that I’ve found in speaking with several devout Christians is their interpretation of the Bible.  One is that sometime around 4,000 years ago God gave man dominion over the earth; the other is the belief that the “end days” are upon us.  If the “end days” are neigh there won’t be a 2100AD to worry about.

Posted by Laura on Sep 27, 2012

It’s interesting that Mitt and Paul are so opposed to environmental regulation, especially since many of our major environmental laws and the EPA came about thanks to a republican: Richard Nixon.  Perhaps they need to go back and review the thought process of why those laws were passed to being with - acid rain, rivers burning, Lake Erie declared dead, etc, etc.  Without government regulation, corporations pollute and degrade the environment and then we need a government “handout” called a super fund to clean up the mess after the fact!  This leads to more cost, financially, environmentally and socially.  When will Congress and the deniers wake up and realize that prevention is the answer.

Mitt wants to go after China big time for trade violations.  Aside from his own firm shipping jobs overseas, the main reason many companies do this is because there are less stringent environmental laws in China and much of Asia.  They are free to degrade the backyards of people who can’t defend themselve and whose governments look the other way.

Posted by Jim Polichak on Sep 27, 2012

Another interesting point is that to one degree or another both Romney and Ryan pretend to embrace Libertarian ideals.  Foremost among them is responsibilities for your own actions.  Any business which pollutes is responsible not only to clean up that pollution but to compensate anyone harmed by that pollution.
Relying upon the government to clean up the messes left by businesses is totally non-libertarian.  On the other hand, having a court system that is friendly to the idea that any one harmed by a polluter is entitled to sue for all his losses is.  In a libertarian society polluting would be too costly to be considered.
Imagine a coal plant being sued by everyone downwind from it!

Posted by Word Google on Nov 12, 2012

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….......... http://www.wordgoogle.com

Posted by Melchior Hughes on May 1, 2013

Paul Ryan, is no fiscal or any other kind of Hawk. He’s an Ayn Rand idelog, with no idea about how the environment work

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Stephen Dworkin

Stephen Dworkin Stephen Dworkin is an environmental journalist and a recent graduate of Connecticut College. He lives in Connecticut.