Arthur Remillard is associate professor of religion at Saint Francis University, teaching on American religious history, religion and sports, and comparative religions. He has written essays for popular outlets including the Washington Post, Christian Century, and the Marginalia Review of Books. His work has appeared in Time, and on radio shows in Pittsburgh and New Orleans

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Tree Huggers, Tree Cutters, and the Challenge of Pope Francis

by Arthur Remillard 07-01-2015
Before snowballs on the senate floor, Republicans were champions of the environment. Those days are now long gone.

Image via /Shutterstock

“The task of cleaning up our environment calls for a total mobilization by all of us. It involves governments at every level; it requires the help of every citizen.”

Sounds like a liberal Democrat, right? Someone who has been using Pope Francis’s recent climate encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Blessed Be”) as a political bludgeon, wielded against “climate change deniers?” Nancy Pelosi, perhaps? Not quite.

With these words, President Richard Nixon concluded his plea to congress in 1970 to take action on behalf of the environment, stressing that this was “an urgent common goal of all Americans.” Nixon then gathered bipartisan support as he spearheaded the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and inked 14 laws related to environmental protection.

To be sure, Nixon didn’t know what to make of environmentalists, once complaining that they wanted everyone to live like “a bunch of damned animals.” Still, when a 2012 poll asked 12 leading environmental groups to rank the three most environmentally-friendly presidents, Nixon came in second — behind Teddy Roosevelt, a fellow Republican.