A Conservative Environmental Statement

Over the course of the past several decades, an entire industry has arisen establishing an ideological and philosophical framework addressing the environmental issues facing modern society. Much of this thought stems from the worldview of contemporary liberalism, which often exhibits a mindset inimical to traditional religion and American socio-political culture and economics. The time has arisen for conservative thinkers to devise schools of thought incorporating their finest principles and presuppositions with knowledge of what is happening to the handiwork of the Creator.

This is not some radical departure from the norm. After all, Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, two individuals responsible for laying the framework of America’s federal resource preservation programs, were Republicans.

While acknowledging that there are others in the country having different religions, American and Western civilization must reembrace its Judeo-Christian foundations in order to save the environment. Many environmentalists criticize Christianity for providing a philosophical justification for the degradation of the Earth. However, what these critics have failed to realize is that this is only one interpretation of this faith in regards to the environment.

Even though man is given the instruction to subdue the Earth, no where in Christian Scripture is he given permission to wantonly destroy what he has not created. In fact, it could be argued that the opposite is true. According to theologian Tony Campolo in “How To Rescue The Earth Without Worshipping Nature, it is in fact contradictory to man’s Biblical role of stewardship over the Earth to callously destroy nature (194).

Furthermore, it could be reasoned that, since God created the universe, only He has the right to destroy it forever. Therefore, man’s attempts to do so could be deemed a form of idolatry violating the First and Second Commandments.

By getting back to their religious, political and economic roots, Americans would also be helping the environment as well. In essence, modern conservatism can be good for the environment.

Often, environmental ideologues and activists promote the message that we must be saved from ourselves and that it must be accomplished through a totalitarian revolution on par with the one undertaken by the Bolsheviks. This is not the case.

The key to ecological preservation and to an extent restoration lies not in collectivism but in the very cornerstone of liberty. That is none other than private property.

No doubt to the dismay of many socialists masquerading as guardians of the biosphere, there can exist a body of thought derived from Christian and conservative conceptions of property ownership concerned with the notion of environmental preservation. Several of these works were reviewed in the 9/11/95 edition of the Washington Times Weekly Edition by Jonathan Adler, at the time director of Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

One book reviewed, “Property Rights In The Defense Of Nature” by Elizabeth Brubaker argues that property ownership is the best form of environmental protection. When individuals own something, for instance land as property, they are more apt to care for it because their futures and prosperity are intertwined with it.

In a sense, this notion is related to Garret Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. The commons did not ultimately suffer because of insufficient bureaucratic regulation. The commons were ravaged because the people saw them as a public resource and were not psychologically invested in the preservation of this resource in the same way if these plots were privately held.

Likewise, big government is not necessarily the savior of the environment it is often made out to be. If anything, the evidence points towards the opposite conclusion.

The largest, most pervasive governments in human history behind the Iron Curtain were guilty of the most atrocious environmental tragedies. The receding Ural Sea and the Chernobyl nuclear reactor both were within the borders of the Soviet Union, the very epitome of a planned economy.

Often in trendy environmental circles one hears that “small is beautiful”. The very same individuals mouthing this platitude then turn around and advocate for large global bureaucracies.

Historian Anna Branwell notes in “Ecology In The Twentieth Century” that it is contradictory to advocate grassroots participatory democracy as an environmental cure while at the same time laying the groundwork for a coercive globalist agenda which utterly ignores the expressed will of the people. Centralized government planning fails for the same reason that the commons ended up as such a tragedy.

A hierarchical bureaucracy takes away freedom of the individual, causing him to have no stake in the outcome. Thus, bureaucracy has the tendency to thwart many of the laudable goals it was allegedly intended to achieve.

Despite this discrepancy between the small-is-beautiful crowd and their affinity towards heavy-handed government solutions, society would do well to remember this axiom of social organization.

Surprisingly, there is a consensus developing between a number of grassroots activists on both the left and the right that Washington is often ill prepared to handle local environmental problems. Too many environmental bureaucrats, institutions, and special interest groups have intertwined themselves with the entrenched political establishment. Certain varieties of both liberals and conservatives have lamented the tragedy wrought by government subsidies such as the case of the Forest Service selling the nation’s timber resources below their assessed market value.

The tone of this analysis should not be taken as that of a libertarian manifesto. As a fallen and sinful creature, man will always need some level of governmental regulation.

However, at the same time, it needs to be realized that government must have checks placed upon it because it is ultimately staffed by those having the same sin nature these agencies were instituted to guard against. Rather than harassing an innocent individual for removing a tree from his wetland property, governments should instead concentrate their efforts on rogue corporations harboring loyalties to no nation or overriding moral principles. Profit, in and of itself, is not evil; however the way it can be earned is.

The preservation of the environment does not require a radical transformation of human values and society. Rather, the effort requires Americans to reembrace those core values at the heart of their unique national identity — thrift, nobility, and individual responsibility. Over the years, a number of Americans have lost touch with these values in part as a result of interferences on the part of a government thinking it knows best.

However, through the curtailment of government subsidies and through the punishment of known polluters, the beneficent invisible hand described by Scottish economist Adam Smith will guide the nation in the selection of policies felicitous to freedom, flora, and fauna. Dominion over nature does not always translate into its conquest or destruction, but rather the oversight of these treasures and resources in the name of their omnipotent Creator.

by Frederick Meekins


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