25 February 2007

Sunday Brunch

There cannot be a "conservative environmentalism" for any recognizable values of "conservative" or "environmentalism."


erp said...

Please elaborate.

David said...

My hope in the Sunday Brunch posts is more to spark discussion than to lay down bloglaw, but I'm pretty happy with what I said about the subject here at BrothersJudd.

Peter Burnet said...

You may not intend to lay down bloglaw, but you sort of did with that excellent post on fisheries above. Given that the world is in a fever about the environment, it is extremely dangerous politically to say there can be no conservative environmentalism unless you are prepared to be a righteous table of one on the margins of political life for quite some time. Of course there is no way conservatism, whether traditional or libertarian, can be reconciled with Gaia/Club of Rome/Planet Earth environmentism, but if you say that, who is going to stick around to hear you explain that doesn't mean you aren't concerned about pollution, wildlife or even anthropogenic climate change?

Conservatives could fight socialism by focussing on private-driven solutions to poverty (competition, innovation, economic growth, charity, etc.) because the object of everyone's concern--wealth--was largely in private hands. Wealth does transfer without public direction and often in spite of it. Even so, it wasn't an easy battle and still isn't. But with the environment, so much deals with "the commons". Fisheries, air, the atmosphere, wilderness, wildlife, water, etc. are not privately owned and, as you point out, aren't likely to be for a very long time, if ever. What practical difference does it make whether you talk in Gaia-speak or traditional language about stewardship, husbanding, the future of our children, etc. if both paths lead to the same 100% government control, management and regulation because there is no alternative.

I suppose this is why there is such an interest in cap and trade schemes for greenhouse gasses and maybe that is the way to go. It just sounds to me suspiciously like the government deciding to charge admission to trials in order to pay judges and announcing it has thereby privatized the judicial system.

A rock and a hard place.

Susan's Husband said...

What struck me, though, was the parallel to "my views on American foreign policy":http://blog.thought-mesh.net/archives/2007/02/my_country_because_its_r.php. In broad strokes, both views start with the view that our society is the thing of highest importance. We then attempt to arrange that which is outside to suit our society. In both cases, the long term view is like pays back like. In terms of environmentalism, one should be careful and conservative (in both senses of the word) because it is eventually damaging to our society to do otherwise. Similarily, our interests are not served by abusing and exploiting other nations, but by attempting to elevate them to our own level of liberty and prosperity.

In both cases, the common countervailing ideology puts a higher value on something outside of our society, either "the environment" or "international law", both of which are basically mystically received value sets that operate with little regard (if not outright disdain) for humans.

P.S. Nice picture, erp.

erp said...

Thanks SH. We had some studio pictures taken recently and I thought this one was a particularly good likeness.

David, you've laid out the problem very well. The environmentalists are merely another part of the lefty coalition and don't care any more about conservation than the feminists care about women's welfare.

David said...

erp: Yep. The real question is whether environmentalism exists except as camouflage for socialism.

SH: This dovetails nicely with our discussion of cap and trade regulatory schemes. The question when it comes to fisheries is how does the government know how many tons of fish is the "right" amount. The government simply doesn't have the right incentives. Bureaucrats will talk about preserving the fish, but what if the best use of the fish is to fish them to extinction? Will the government react to changing market conditions? The problem with the government isn't incompetence, or only incompetence. The problem is corruption, including corruption by the democratic process. Teachers unions are coddled not so much because they are unions as because they are powerful vote providers. The regulatory process will be captured by someone who's interests are different from an owner's interest, because there is no owner. Fisherman will want certain rules, environmentalists will want certain rules, consumers and the oxymoronic consumer advocates will want certain rules. They will all be accommodated according to their political strength. There's no reason to think that the result will look anything like what a wealth maximizing owner would impose.

Peter: I agree with what you say, but I find it depressing. There can be no rational discourse without shared fundamental assumptions. Now you're saying that the discussion is controlled by those whose assumptions are gibberish to us. Worse, to have any hope of in any way ameliorating their head long rush into penury and barbarism, we have to adopt their vocabulary and pretend that we share their assumptions.

erp said...

David, We'll have to wait until socialism is dead and all its vestal virgins have gone on to their reward before we can tackle environmental matters in a logical way. Right now it's so mired in myth, it's almost impossible to find out what's really happening. The Love Canal, Two-Mile Island and other environmental "disasters" have turned out not to have been disasters at all, but I doubt one out of hundred, even a thousand know it.

I have a rule of thumb that works well for me. If the moonbats are supporting an issue, I know I'm on the opposite side, it matters not what the issue is. Saves me a lot of time researching and pondering.

Susan's Husband said...

I was just throwing it out as a potential compromise position for those who aren't libertarians. I would be prefer a purely private scheme but I think not a place we'll get in my lifetime. One might also consider the limit setting as part way down a good slippery slope :-).

Peter Burnet said...


I find it depressing too. In fact, I am beginning to conclude that we are simply going to have to live through some damaging nonsense before the zeitgeist changes.

Duck hints at a good point in the post above, which is that all the inspiration and poetry is against us. The notions of growth or development or harnassing nature for a better life simply don't resonate with anybody anymore. There is hardly any sense of trade-off, at least among the beautiful people. It's all comfy drivel about win-win with perhaps smaller cars and more healthy local camping trips in place of flights around the world. Got a problem with that, resource-raper? In fact, I've noticed how even trying to talk rational sense about the science of climate change can agitate lots of ordinary folks--haven't I heard that the debate is over? Do you remember how people used to talk admiringly of Israel and how she "made the desert bloom"? Who would say that today? That was sort of what I was trying to get at in your post about water a while back. How can the image watering oversized lawns in desert suburbs or servicing yet another SUV factory inspire like the challenge of protecting fresh, clean Canadian (the very best kind) water that nourishes a far flung, untamed, threatened wilderness? Especially when you factor in that state-generated mega-projects really are prone to economic madness, hucksterism and environmental disaster. Think of all those Soviet damns that everybody used to admire so much that they sloughed off the slave labour needed to build them. What does everybody say about them today?

The scientists who are sceptical are the real scientists while the IPCC crowd have all become Romantic poets who have tapped into postmodern boredom and nihilism very effectively and given everybody what they crave most--religion. As our dunnoist friends never tire of reminding us, religion can be a very destructive force.

It all reminds me a bit of what happened to the British Conservatives after the war. The notion of building the socialist New Jerusalem was so ingrained and so pervasive that they had to make their peace with it or retire to the margins of political life. Nobody would even listen to the cogent warnings about the destruction of self-reliance or how state dependency would be so economically and socially corrosive. Hadn't the doom-and-gloom crowd (greedy fascists to a man) heard the debate was over? Plus there were lots of very real social issues and the Tories had always had an anti-urban, anti-unplanned industrialization streak. So they jumped on board, stopped attacking the principles of statism and became Labor-lite. It took thirty years of economic decline, endless strikes, rule-by-union and a mess of other ills before the reaction set in.

Decline is a bummer, isn't it?