Environmentalism is a conservative value

Protecting the environment should be a goal for individuals of every political and economic stripe

By BRUCE EDWARD WALKER | May 2020

A principle often missing in the climate change debate is the presumption of goodwill when it comes to ideological opponents.

One needn’t be a full-fledged Green New Deal activist to identify as an environmentalist. Likewise, writing off environmentalists’ concerns as a hoax does little more than give license to those who would exploit natural resources to the point of destruction.

Somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum are true conservatives.

Conservatives worthy of the designation are also diligent environmental stewards occupying common ground with their left-of-center colleagues.

Russell Kirk (1918-1994), one of modern conservatism’s architects, for example, wrote often of his disdain for the wreckage of the rural landscapes surrounding his ancestral home in Mecosta, Michigan, wrought by the lumber industry. “Stump country,” he called it, with more than a hint of contempt.

Kirk was a discerning critic of unfettered capitalism and an unwavering champion of ordered liberty.

More recently, the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton (1944-2020) wrote in 2013: “Oikophilia, the love of home, lends itself­ to the environmental cause, and it is astonishing that the Conservative Party has not seized hold of that cause as its own.”

He continued: “The solution is not automatically to call on the state to intervene but first to look for the social mechanisms that cause people to bear the costs of what they do.”

In a March guest article in National Review, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) wrote: “Good intentions and dogmatic obsessions with eliminating fossil fuels have utterly failed the environmental cause, yet activists continue to faithfully cling to them. The notion of ‘focusing on what works’ has been lost in the conversation.”

He cited the abundance of natural gas recognized by the U.S. shale revolution as contributing to a 15% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005. By comparison, Crenshaw wrote, Germany invested $580 billion in renewable energy yet failed to meet its goals.

Instead of lowering carbon emissions, Germany’s per-capita discharge increased after it added Russian gas to its fuel portfolio to compensate. The replacement fuel source, noted Crenshaw, has “a 40% higher carbon footprint than American natural gas.”

Helping the poor

One key aspect of any public policy position should reflect a concern for both the environment and the world’s most vulnerable. Keeping energy affordable and plentiful helps those least likely to afford it by raising their standard of living.

According to the Cornwall Alliance, a group adhering to Judeo-Christian based scholarship to assist the world’s economically disadvantaged, “Fossil fuels, because of their lower costs and higher efficiency, account for over 85% of total global energy use, and nuclear energy for about 6%. Wind and solar energy, because of their higher costs and lower efficiency, account for only a few percent.”

The world’s poorest would be the most significantly disadvantaged by fossil fuel restrictions, the alliance says. Affordable and plentiful energy sources are necessary to transition the poor out of poverty, it adds.

In his 2014 book, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” Alex Epstein concurred: “It is an undeniable truth that, in providing the fuel that makes modern, industrialized, globalized, fertilized agriculture possible, the oil industry has sustained and improved billions of lives. … If we rate achievements by their contribution to human well-being, surely this must rank as one of the great achievements of our time, and when we consider the problems with that industry, shouldn’t we take into account that it fed and feeds the world?”

Do problems continue to exist? Most certainly, and it’s incumbent upon legislators and public policy professionals in conjunction with industry and manufacturing executives to acknowledge those problems and work together to solve them.

Protecting the environment is a conservative goal, yet one that should engage individuals of every political and economic stripe.

We can reduce our environmental footprint even further than in the past 50 years without simultaneously wreaking economic havoc.

To say we cannot is to present the world with the false choice between the economic nightmare of the Green New Deal and complete environmental collapse. There’s a wide berth in between those extremes filled with millions, if not billions, of humans teeming with mutual goodwill.

Bruce Edward Walker is Midwest regional editor for The Center Square.

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