Is Protecting the Environment a Conservative Concern?


Image credit: derekp, used under Creative Commons license.

From asking what Reagan would do, through discussing a green Republican movement, to looking at Margaret Thatcher's mixed record on climate change, TreeHugger has devoted plenty of column inches to the relationship between conservatism, conservation and sustainability. Yet while most folks would reject the idea that environmentalism is inherently socialist, there is still a perception that sustainability is a left-leaning issue. Now some conservative thinkers are pushing back on this notion. Paul Foote, director of the Conservative Environmental Network, is on a mission to reclaim conservation and sustainability as an integral part of true conservative thinking. Writing over at The Guardian, he lays out his case for why environmentalism is a conservative concern, and why the Tea Party's aggressive brand of climate skepticism is not a true reflection of conservative thought:

"In the US, anti-environmental beliefs have gained traction on the right, which views action on climate change as "big government". Indeed, such views are considered "conservative". But they are not conservative beliefs.

The reality is that conservative thinking provides a deep well of arguments for protecting the environment and tackling climate change. I would argue the long political and philosophical heritage of environmentalism is in essence, conservative rather than radical. If the action needed to enhance the security of our own and future generations seems radical, that is merely a reflection of the extent to which we have collectively lost touch with the conservative tradition."

Citing Edmund Burke's assertion that we have a moral obligation not to destroy our environment, lest we "leave to those who come after ... a ruin instead of a habitation", Foote suggests that true conservatives pay attention to environmental well-being, and scientifically-informed environmental thinking, as central tennets of ensuring prosperity and well-being for our communities.

Indeed, with the Conservative-led coalition in the UK dropping Heathrow's 3rd runway plans, calling for a carbon tax on coal and gas, and with conservative Member of Parliament and Ecologist editor Zac Goldsmith appearing in the anti-globalization movie The Economics of Happiness, there is evidence that some branches of conservative thought, in the UK at least, are reengaging with the environmental movement.

Of course with "forces of darkness" massing against renewables both in and out of government, and with the Conservative's Big Society agenda receiving very mixed responses from environmentalists, Foote's attempt to reclaim environmentalism for the conservative movement will not be without its dissenters. And with a resurgent interest in steady-state or no growth economics, and just maybe in living simpler, less consumer-oriented lives, Foote's statement that "the green agenda is the growth agenda" may also meet some resistance from many greens.

Nevertheless, it's good to see environmentalists of all political persuasions pushing back against anti-science, anti-environmental tendencies. It's only if sustainability can bring everyone on board that it will ever be, well, sustainable.

More on Conservatism, Conservation and Environmental Thought
What Would Reagan Do? Conservative Environmentalists Reclaim Climate Debate
Margaret Thatcher Hailed as a Champion for Climate Skeptics
UK Conservatives Pledge 10% CO2 Cuts in 12 Months
Gingrich: There Has to Be a Green Conservatism
A Different Conservative View of Climate Change: It's Happening
Quote of the Day: David Frum on How to Get Off Oil

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