by Judith Curry
Philosopher Roger Scruton agrees that the environment is the most urgent political problem of our age but argues in his new book “How to Think Seriously About the Planet” that conservatism is far better suited to tackle environmental problems than either liberalism or socialism.
I haven’t read Scruton’s book, but seems to be receiving a lot of attention. Earlier this week, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted an event on the topic of Scruton’s book. A description of the event:
The environment has long been the undisputed territory of the political left, which has seen the principal threats to the planet issuing from globalization, consumerism and the overexploitation of natural resources. Philosopher Roger Scruton agrees that the environment is the most urgent political problem of our age but argues in his new book “How to Think Seriously About the Planet” that conservatism is far better suited to tackle environmental problems than either liberalism or socialism. Scruton suggests that rather than entrusting the environment to unwieldy nongovernmental and international organizations, we should assume personal responsibility and foster local sovereignty.
Scruton suggested local environmental policy solutions in the face of top-down approaches and proposed tapping into humanity’s “unexplored motive of oikophilia” — or attachment to the home — in discovering these solutions. Mark Sagoff of George Mason University applauded Scruton for highlighting the esthetic side of environmentalism, but questioned Scruton’s theory of oikophilia in the context of the American tendency toward mobility.
There was a 2nd panel, with Ken Green of AEI, Keith Kloor, and Daniel Sarewitz. Kloor has two blog posts on this [here] and [here]. I was intrigued by Ken Green‘s comments, which he has made publicly available [here]. Some excerpts:
As for the idea of compromise, I have my doubts. Environmentalists have generally resisted compromise, and in fact, tend to slander anyone who does try to compromise with them, or to use compromise as a weapon in the future.
It seems to be there’s little ground left for compromise. But, in the spirit of all interfaith conversations, I’ll take a crack at it:
What environmentalists can learn from conservatives
- Wealthier is healthier and cleaner. Until they’re wealthy, they will consume environmental resources without much regard to aesthetics or future generations. Making people wealthier is the ultimate environmental act.
- Societies that foster “freedom, opportunity, and enterprise” enrich themselves more quickly, and empower people to express their diverse values effectively, including environmental values. Social structures that divorce people from individual responsibility do exactly the opposite. Freeing up markets is an environmental act.
- One should be cautious in intervening in complex economic systems, as one can easily trigger unintended consequences that do more harm than good. Ethanol. ‘Nuff said.
- Humility should be the rule when it comes to models and forecasting of environmental trends, health damage, economic impacts, or job impacts.
- Markets are better than mandates.
What conservatives can learn from environmentalists
- There are real environmental problems that warrant action, especially in the developing world.
- There really is such a thing as ecosystem services that are often either unpriced or improperly priced, and we are probably wasting a lot of such services because they are unpriced.
- There really is a greenhouse effect, wherein greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. But it doesn’t help to label climate change a giant hoax and refuse to discuss it. And, billboards featuring Ted Kaczynski seem like a particularly bad way to promote a conversation.
- A large swath of the public does get psychic benefits from knowing that ecosystems are being cared for, and species are being protected.
- And, alas, by their behavior environmentalists can teach conservatives to be wary of compromise: the history of environmental policy has been that environmentalists have rarely ever accepted a compromise on good faith.
JC comments: An interesting list. Your comments/additions? I would love to see such a list from an environmentalist.