21 May 2014

Why is the environment considered primarily a left-wing concern?

Conservative and conservation are almost the same word, both deriving from the Latin conservare, "to preserve," and differing only by two letters. We might expect, therefore, that conservatives would be great conservationists, deeply concerned about preserving the natural world, foremost stewards of the environment.

Yet that doesn't seem to be the case. Not that conservatives aren't concerned about the environment, they just don't seem to be as concerned as progressives, and are strongly inclined to put the economy first. Furthermore, they are disposed to think of the environmentally-minded as left-wing. We are all too familiar with former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's characterization of environmentalists as radical ideologues funded by foreign interests. Environmentalism almost seems to be a dirty word to conservatives, or at least to the Conservatives in Ottawa.

It is true that environmentalists tend to support progressive causes generally, social justice for instance, but that shouldn't preclude conservatives from strongly promoting the preservation of nature. After all, a healthy environment is, in the long term, critical to a healthy economy.

So what's with the conservative antipathy to vigorous defence of the environment? The answer, I suspect, lies with the newness of environmental concern. Up until recently, the planet was considered to be an infinite source of resources. Even economists, who ought to have known better, tended to ignore it in their theorizing. Only in the past few decades have we, or at least some of us, including the scientific community, come to the full realization of the damage we are doing to the Earth and the limits to its resources. Conservatives, always lagging, and often opposing, in the unending struggle for progress, simply haven't caught up.

Let's hope it doesn't take them too long. Time is short. Humanity could wait centuries, indeed millennia, to recognize the moral need to end slavery, emancipate women, abolish child labour, and liberate ethnic minorities and gays, but we only have decades to turn global warming around and start living within the planet's means. And this isn't just a moral imperative, it's even more an economic imperative. Without the support of a solid majority of people everywhere, we may just not make it.

1 comment:

  1. The simple answer, Bill, is that conservatism has become perverted. Edmund Burke, the architect of political conservatism, defended the "ancient principles" that included the responsibility to pass off to one's children an environment better than that which you had found. Burke was also a passionate believer in individual, constitutional liberty. That too has been perverted by movement conservatism that today embraces corporatism and inevitable oligarchy over messy and unpredictable democracy.

    Across the board we're dealing with neo-conservatism in this 21st century. It's sad that the Left has capitulated at this very moment. Even our federal and provincial NDP have become "Blairified." The Liberals, meanwhile, have transformed to Conservative Lite. In this way the political centre has inexorably shifted to the right, a process that seems to be eroding our social cohesion.