The Conservative Party’s decision to act to reduce the impact of things like plastic and diesel on our environment are some of the headline policies from a series of brilliant initiatives from Environment Secretary Michael Gove as he looks to safeguard our environment for future generations. While Gove and the Conservative Party have made progress on environmental issues, it remains the case in the UK and abroad that many conservatives are sceptical of initiatives to protect our environment – most notably US President Donald Trump. This is something worth looking at, because there seem to be a lot of logical reasons for conservatives to support environmentalist policies.
Firstly, we need to pre-emptively rebut something: the argument that we should leave environmentalism up to the market does not stand up to scrutiny. For literally hundreds of years government intervention has protected and promoted the fossil fuel industries and in some cases worked to put in excess harmful regulations to prevent the growth of the renewable energy sector. You cannot give one group of businesses such a massive head start and then expect the free market to correct a century’s worth of harmful intervention. That’s just not a plausible solution.
Likewise, governments of all colours have repeatedly held up the senile industries that many of the fossil fuels have been reduced to with excessive intervention. Imagine the good that could have been done to right past mistakes if that money and time had been spent improving renewable and clean technologies. There hasn’t been a free market in energy since the industrial revolution, and even if you took government out of energy entirely, calling it a free market would still be incredibly disingenuous.
Anyway, back to the main point. There are, broadly, two reasons why conservatives should ideologically favour environmentalist policies: 1) social contract theory, austerity, and pretty much all other conservative policies and theories are about leaving society to our children and grandchildren in at least as good a condition as we found it; and 2) one of the main integral parts of conservatism is the belief that societal change should be gradual.
So for 1), even if we put aside the potentially devastating consequences of climate change, climate sceptics must see that air pollution, water pollution, habitat loss, decreased biodiversity, etc., etc., etc. are all bad things that are happening right now. If we are to leave a planet for our children and grandchildren that is as good as the one we inherited, we need to take action, not only to prevent these things, but to alleviate some of the damage that has already been caused by decades of negligence. Yes, it may cause some short-term pain. There might be some adjustments needed. But it is the same principle as the austerity policy that we conservatives espouse: whatever negative outcomes (and there may be some) we get in the short run by acting now, they would be far worse if we have to take urgent action to correct environmental problems in 2050.
I’d like to think that 2 is fairly self-explanatory, but if not it does follow on nicely from what I’ve just been discussing. Whether the dramatic societal changes in the long run are caused by climactic shifts, behavioural changes to adapt to pollution or food-chain changes, or simply by being forced into drastic action to combat environmental problems, failing to deal with the environment now would likely force huge changes in how our societies operate in the long run. If there is one thing that should unite conservatives, it is a belief that dramatic changes should be avoided by
implementing less drastic ones now.
The biggest reason that conservatives should implement policies to protect our environment is of course the real danger posed by climate change to our planet, but if that argument doesn’t appeal to you, then if you’re truly a conservative you should consider the impact that environmental degradation will have on future generations and use whichever conservative principle takes your fancy to justify environmental protections. It’s a very unconservative thing to use market intervention to defend the unsustainable in place of a sustainable solution.