Conservative Environmentalism

I’ve been explicitly concerned about the environment since I was a hippy in my late teens. As I evolved from hippy to punk in my early 20’s, I took my environmental concern with me. I recall when the accuracy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came under skepticism, my reaction was that even if it wasn’t all true, it was okay because the world needed to be shocked into action. More on that later.

I was also a liberal throughout this time. In addition to heavy-handed government to stop environmental degradation, I also wanted single-payer health care, and government redistribution of wealth. Without irony, I also considered myself something of an anarchist while advocating these positions, and probably would have participated in Black Bloc activism had the opportunity presented itself (similarly, I was sympathetic to Earth First! style environmental terrorism).

Around 2009, through a complex series of reconsiderations, I developed a more conservative worldview. This involved transitions from revolutionary to a return to first principals and, importantly, from looking to government for answers to advocacy of limited government.

While my concern for the environment was unabated, my previous thoughts on policy implementation were no longer acceptable, so most of my advocacy was on the personal level: composting, recycling, rain barrel, prudent consumerism, riding my bike to work, organic and local food, etc.

Compounding my change of ideas about heavy handed government initiatives, I developed a skepticism toward much of the current environmental movement. For example, if you’ve never heard of Agenda 21, it’s a bona fide UN action plan for sustainable development, which many consider (perhaps conspiratorially) to be quite sinister:

Regardless of the validity of that, it’s clear that, hypothetically, if power hungry people want to control the masses, fear of environmental threats are a good way to do that (see State of Fear by Michael Crichten.) And that gives me pause when considering the dishonest alarmism found in An Inconvenient Truth and elsewhere. Also troubling is the tendency to call skeptics of anthropogenic global warming, “deniers, ” as President Obama and Al Gore have done, and is all over social media. Specifically:

  1. No one wins arguments by calling their opponent the equivalent of an idiot, which calls into question whether they are interested in conversation or just division.
  2. Even assuming that there is nothing to the claims of scientific malfeasance by the IPCC and others, the claim of near certainty of our effect on the climate is bold. It just is. We’ve seen the climate bounce back and forth between extremes in pre-history without our influence, we can’t accurately predict the weather a month in advance, but the idea that current climate changes may not be anthropogenic is completely unreasonable?
  3. Even if there wasn’t scientific consensus on global cooling in the 1970’s, the fact that it got high profile coverage understandably increases public distrust.
  4. Personal experience can also add to reasonable misgivings. In Indiana, we’re having the coldest winter in years, climate scientists got their boat stuck in the Antarctic, but the earth is warming? And I know how the warming is supposed to cause erratic weather and that a polar vortex (and/or the Sun falling asleep) apparently caused our cold winter, but how can you be surprised when the average non-scientist is dubious?
  5. Given this context, using AGW as a litmus test is imprudent in and of itself. Despite any anecdotal evidence, I believe the earth is likely warming and can even entertain that human activity may be contributing to that, but I understand those who are more skeptical and believe they may be more receptive to a concept such as environmental stewardship.
  6. The litmus test and crisis aspects of the debate seem to preclude any real discussion of policy. For example, before going all-in on wind energy, should we consider the implications of displacing farmland and killing birds? Do those who derisively call AGW skeptics “deniers” have a “consensus” on ethanol or nuclear energy?

So where was I? Oh yeah, concerned for the environment, but not necessarily trusting its spokespeople and pretty much just going with the-personal-is-political.

I then (2010) discovered Robert Bryce, who brought attention to the amazing progress we’ve made in efficiencies and the importance of energy density.  He doesn’t deny the (literal) limits of fossil fuels, but gives them credit for lifting (and keeping) populations out of poverty. He considers traditional fossil fuels a bridge to N2N (natural gas to nuclear).

So I was pretty copacetic with my personal and policy environmental policy until the West Viginia spill. It begs for greater oversight and a more complex response than, “I’m annoyed by your mindless devotion to environmental fear-mongering.”

It’s getting late, so I’ll postpone my thoughts on solutions to another post.


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