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The Right Conservative Position On The Environment By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 02, 2001

THE WAR ON TERRORISM is rightly dominating ideological discussion, but it would be a mistake to forget other issues. While public attention is elsewhere, ideological shifts can occur which will burst into prominence when terrorism, inevitably, recedes as an issue. Sad irony or no, these attacks have given conservatives an enormous boost; we should use this opportunity to clean up our act on issues where we do poorly with the public. If we do this, we can establish a serious electoral lock on this country (provided, of course, we end the immigration of a million future Democrats a year, which makes all our strategies moot). And the key issue in this regard is the environment.


It would, however, be disastrous and absurd to simply adopt the environmental views of the opposition. Conservatives rightly sense that there is something deeply wrong with these views, even if they tend to draw the wrong conclusions from this intuition. Conservatives frequently seem to dismiss environmentalism as such as a mistaken ideal. But the fundamental and inescapable fact is that, in the language of economics, environmental protection is a good. This is true by nature and not, as with things like affirmative action, according to what ideology one happens to subscribe to. Nobody has a sincere preference for a worse environment; some people just prefer different tradeoffs for getting a better one. What we fundamentally need is a way to tell the public that we are environmentalists, just conservative ones. This requires a clear conception of how conservative environmentalism, while differing from the liberal variety, is still serious environmentalism. I propose the following:


Difference #1: Conservative environmentalism believes environmental protection is a good like any other, i.e. a thing that one rationally trades off against other goods to obtain. It is not different in kind from any other public good, like uncongested highways or national defense. Except for the fact that it is a public good, it is not philosophically different from ordinary consumer goods. This is a profound point. Liberal environmentalism believes that it is a good simply, like a moral good, something that one is obliged to do independently of the cost. Once one grasps that environmental protection is a good like any other, it becomes logically clear what is painfully obvious empirically: the more money, i.e. economic prosperity one has, the more of it one can afford. All sorts of good things logically follow, like mandatory costbenefit analysis and the fact that business is not intrinsically the enemy of the environment.


Difference #2: Conservative environmentalism genuinely believes in science; liberal environmentalism is quite happy to exploit mythology. (On one level, this isn't really surprising, as anyone who keeps up with the opposition knows that the intellectual far left doesn't really believe in science anymore because it is a product of the white male capitalist desire to dominate nature, et cetera.) A recent example is Gov. Pataki's recent decision to dredge the Hudson River for toxins, which was emotionally satisfying but in fact just stirs them up from where they lie. Conservative environmentalism has a quantitative attitude towards environmental hazards and does not devote 1,000 times more money to combating a vivid but minor threat than it does to a dull but major one. Conservative environmentalism demands evidence, and it does not seek emotionally satisfying solutions.


Difference #3: Conservative environmentalism is anthropocentric, not biocentric. The environment is a good because it is good for people; mere life, i.e. squirming stuff, is not an end in itself. We protect those parts of the environment, like the air we breathe and the landscapes we cherish, which are of value to us. We do not protect arctic mudflats or trivial little fish just because they exist. The key question to ask about any thing being pondered for environmental protection is: what has it done for us lately? What does it do, other than just exist? If liberals want to define new ways in which lowvalue environments are of value to people, fine, but the onus is on them to do so.


Difference #4: Conservative environmentalism insists on economic rationality. If environmental protection is a good, the rational thing to do is to purchase this good at the lowest possible cost. It is not rational to purchase it in inefficient but emotionallysatisfying ways like recycling materials that cost more in net energy to recycle than to make from scratch. Conservative environmentalism insists on freemarket solutions, like tradable pollution credits, whenever possible. It measures its success by results obtained, not money spent. It insists that costs be measured. It knows that socialist economies have reliably produced less environmental protection than capitalist ones.


Difference #5: Conservative environmentalism is respectful of property rights. Because environmental protection is a public good, the public should pay for it, not the poor clod who happens to own the wetlands being protected. The government does not have the right to protect the environment by stealing it bit by bit from its owners. At the very least, it must pay fair compensation. If we all have to chip in to buy scenic beauty or clean water, fine. It is high time we told the truth about what this costs.


Difference #6: Conservative environmentalism believes environmentalism is not a religion. The respectable facade of the opposition would also say this, but their hard core activists are into things like "deep ecology," which basically asserts that the environment is an end in itself in which man is, honestly, a pest. Or they believe in "circle of life" paganism, which goes by the name The Gaia Hypothesis when it tries to pass itself off as intellectually serious. The conservative alternative is not necessarily JudeoChristian, but it is clearly compatible, as this nonsense is not, with the JudeoChristian idea that God gave Man the Earth for his use.


Difference #7: Conservative environmentalism is respectful of national sovereignty. America has the right to protect its environment on its own terms. International bodies do not, particularly when they are based on ripoff treaties which impose burdens on America while letting our ThirdWorld industrial competitors run free. The fact that pollution is global does not, contrary to liberal opinion, imply that the solution must be globalist. Environmentalism must not be hijacked as one more tool for the globalist usual suspects to push their nationliquidating agenda.


Difference #8: Conservative environmentalism is honest about the number one threat to the American environment: immigration. The neardoubling of our population since WWII, which growth is now almost entirely due to immigration, is increasing the burden on our landscape daybyday. Liberal environmentalists know the facts, but can’t speak the truth because of their own political correctness and the constituency demands of the Democratic party. The single best easy thing we could do tomorrow to save America’s environment is stop issuing immigrant visas.


Difference #9: Conservative environmentalism is just as concerned with the human environment as with the natural environment. People, too, need good habitats. Issues like New Urbanism and antisprawl measures are part of conservative environmentalism. Quality of the environment is a part of our quality of life. The highest quality of life is obviously not identical with the highest possible GNP; belief in conservative environmentalism is therefore one of the key dividing issues between real conservatives and corporatist pretenders who would gladly pave Yellowstone Park for a 10% rise in the Dow.




Difference #10: Conservative environmentalism appreciates the way in which many environmentalist values, like the concept of stewardship, are really longstanding conservative values. For example, the multigenerational stewardship of the land that we are asked to practice is an aristocratic concept that Edmund Burke would have taken for granted 200 years ago. Love of the outdoors and appreciation of the significance of wilderness as a nourishment of the American spirit are rugged, conservative values. Teddy Roosevelt appreciated them. And let's not forget that most major environmental legislation, like the founding of the EPA, was actually passed by President Nixon.


These ten points give us a principled ideological framework for supporting the environmental measures that are actually worthwhile while refusing to go along with the dangerous liberal version of environmentalism and all it entails. I do not claim these are original ideas, and conservatives have been applying them in the daily cutandthrust of politics for years. What is somewhat new is the idea that we need to not just apply these concepts but make known to the electorate that these are the concepts we are applying. We need the public to know in a detailed and explicit way that we have a coherent ideology on the environment and that this is it. We need to get the electorate to grasp at an intuitive level that we DO stand for a form of environmentalism, just not the liberal form. The electorate strongly suspects we don't like environmentalism at all, a suspicion that grows when all we can say is that we're against liberal environmentalism. It needs to be told, explicitly, the nature of what we are for. We can fight for a generation on these points.

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