Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Conservatism and the Environment

China Gasps

I have a friend in London who loves to surf.  He is, like myself, an American living in London.  He recently returned from a surfing trip to Morocco which he enjoyed very much.  He did, however, report that the coastal waters of Morocco were filled with human waste.

I then read this passage from Roger Scruton's Green Philosophy...

"Other forms of social equilibrium may equally pose a threat to the environment, not because they depend on economic growth, but because they depend on population growth...Consider the traditional Islamic societies observed in North Africa and parts of the Middle East.  These achieve equilibrium only when families enjoy spheres of private sovereignty, under the tutelage of a patriarch whose social standing is constantly enhanced by evidence of his reproductive powers.  Each family must be forever adding to its retinue of sons if it is to retain its position.  The result, in modern conditions, is a population explosion that is rapidly destroying the environment of Muslim Africa and North Africa..."  Green Philosophy, Roger Scruton, 2012.

Statist/Leftist forms of government, such as socialism and communism, have also had an enormous negative impact on the world's environment.  Consider the cases of the former Soviet Union and China.

Chernobyl Abandoned Ferris wheel (Call of Duty)
One word sums up the impact of the former Soviet Union on the global environment--Chernobyl.  According to a Russian publication, Chernobyl, there may be nearly one million premature cancer deaths as a result of the radioactive contamination from the disaster.  This area remains not the the scariest places on the planet to visit more than twenty-five years after the catastrophe of 1986.

The biggest nightmare for an American expatriate who suffers from asthma is the possibility of a transfer to Shanghai or Hong Kong.  God help the local Chinese asthma sufferer who has few choices!

The devastation that Chinese communism has wrought on the Chinese environment is simply horrendous.  Ten out of the top ten cities in the world as ranked by air and water pollution are in China (Forbes).  According to the FT, up to 700,000 people per year die prematurely in China due to air and water contamination.  Three-quarters of its forests  resources have been eliminated, including a virtual clear cut of Tibet.  30% of the country is now literally a desert.  China has now become the leading source of greenhouse gases in the world (22% of world total versus 20% for the USA). Just take a look at some of these recent headlines on China and pollution...

"China's Pollution so Insane you can see it from Space"

Anger Grows over Air Pollution in Beijing

China's Pollution, A Toxic Issue

China is Black Hole of Asian Deforestation

Just look at these appalling photos to great some idea of China's environmental problems...

What is it that Islamic governments of North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Contemporary China all have in common?  They all lack a free press.  Citizens in the Soviet Union did not learn of the Chernobyl until two days after it occurred and then with a twenty second announcement.  The media in the West, for all its flaws and limitations, acts as a watchdog for environmental issues.  Take away a free press in a modern industrial society and you guarantee massive environmental problems.

View from Hurricane Ridge
I part company from strict libertarians who advocate a pure laissez-faire approach on environmental issues.  I believe that Conservatism steers a path throughout the Scylla of "devil take the hindmost" libertarianism and the Charybdis of John Muir's style of radical touch-nothing environmentalism.  It was Republican Teddy Roosevelt to charted the Conservationist course in the USA.  He was strongly in favour or protecting renewable resources--he created the US Forest Service--while at the same showing a willingness to exploit these resources for the long term benefit of the American people.  In my own home state of Washington, we have Teddy Roosevelt to thank for making Olympic National Park, which features the gorgeous Hurricane Ridge, a national monument in 1906.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about TR's Conservation policies...

"Roosevelt put the conservationist issue high on the national agenda.[9] He worked with all the major figures of the movement, especially his chief advisor on the matter, Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt was deeply committed to conserving natural resources, and is considered to be the nation's first conservation President. He encouraged the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms and placed 230 million acres (360,000 mi² or 930,000 km²) under federal protection. Roosevelt set aside more Federal land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined.[10]

TR Conservative & Conservationist!

Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the year 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments. He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, four Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests, including Shoshone National Forest, the nation's first. The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totals approximately 230,000,000 acres (930,000 km2).
Gifford Pinchot had been appointed by McKinley as chief of Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture. In 1905, his department gained control of the national forest reserves. Pinchot promoted private use (for a fee) under federal supervision. In 1907, Roosevelt designated 16 million acres (65,000 km²) of new national forests just minutes before a deadline.

In May 1908, Roosevelt sponsored the Conference of Governors held in the White House, with a focus on natural resources and their most efficient use. Roosevelt delivered the opening address: 'Conservation as a National Duty'."  Source: Wikipedia.

More recently, it was a Republican President, Richard Nixon, who formed the EPA in 1970.  He broke ground as the first President in US history to mention environmental issues in a State of the Union address.  He also signed the Clean Air Act of 1970.

Who is really a greater steward of the environment after all?  The big city liberal who wanders the concrete canyons of Manhattan or the Duck's Unlimited member tramping through the woods?  Who is better placed to assure our continued stewardship of America's vast natural blessings for the enjoyment of future generations?

Moreover, the connection between "Conservatism" and "Conservation" is more than merely semantic. Is it not really Conservatives who are intrinsically more inclined by temperament to be concerned with the environment than leftists?   Conservatives are, after all, the brakes on the engine of governmental intervention.  Consider Chesterton's The Thing from 1929 (cited in Conservatism and Change post above from 1/29/12).  What Chesterton applied to legislation can equally be applied  to alterations of the natural environment.  Before we change a piece of legislation it makes sense to ask "why it was enacted in the first place?' and 'what purpose does it serve?'  By the same token, before we alter the bend of a river or chop down a stand of pines it makes sense to know what it took for them to come into being in the first place and to understand their impact on the wider environment.

President Obama has caved in to pressure from the extreme environmentalists and foreign oil interests  (http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/09/23/foreign-interests-attack-oil-sands/) on his recent decision to nix the Keystone Pipeline which would provide jobs and greater energy independence for the US.  By so doing we seem, contrary to TR's advice, to be "speaking softly but hitting ourselves with our own stick".  It seems clear that he is not a Conservationist, but rather an extremist.  This will likely be a major feature of Romney's attack on Obama this fall.

If you would like a detailed look at the fiasco over the Keystone pipeline and have 12 minutes to spare check this out...


For far too long the left has utterly dominated the environmental agenda.  One can hope that candidate Romney this fall will help restore a measure of balance to Republican environmental policies.  Did not the great Voltaire speak as a true Conservative when he enjoins us at the conclusion of Candide to "cultivate our gardens"?

Voltaire says "Cultivate Your Garden!"


The Conservation Anthem!

1 comment:

Jon said...

It's wrong to ascribe the environmental disaster that is China to communism. In the words of Pan Yue, deputy director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, "The fundamental cause is the capitalist system". As you know, the environmental damage has gone hand-in-hand with China's extraordinary economic progress, achieved when it effectively abandoned the core tenants of communism*. It's well-known, and obvious, that when capitalism-fuelled development takes place without adequate regulation, environmental degradation ensues.

* After the collapse of communism, new Marxist thinkers found that ecological issues presented a heaven-sent opportunity to expose the capitalist system and unite socialists. They laid the blame for the global environmental crisis at the feet of the capitalist system. In this way, environmental activists and socialists started to unite, with many former Communist Party members and leftists participating. Politically, this union became known as the “red-green alliance”, ideologically as eco-socialism. (Luckily for the poor in China, the red-greens did not prevail.)

I fully agree that Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest US President ever in terms of recognizing the importance of our incredible natural environment and enacting legislation to preserve it. But you have to admit that T.R.'e environmental stance, together with his plea for an income tax, child labor laws, health care and conservation, his call for worker protections, control of corporate abuse, and “a square deal for the poor man,” would be booed out of the room of any Republican gathering today. Indeed, his platform 100 years ago would be much more strongly aligned with today's democrats, including his fellow (Democrat) Nobel Peace Prize winners Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.