Friday, August 9, 2013

Republicans and the Environment

Know anyone who hates the environment? I don't. We all love pristine beaches, wooded trails, and soaring mountains. We take joy in sharing these places with our children.
And yes, even Republicans appreciate lakes and trees. And yet they are widely perceived as "anti-environment." Why is that?
It's because they are obliged to check the relentless environmental agenda of the left, which they rightly believe goes too far. This puts them in a position of always saying "no" to policies that seem just fine to our minimally informed electorate.
What could possibly be wrong, for example, with a bill called, say, the "Clean Water for Our Children Act”?  Likely plenty, if you read the details. But to the casual observer it seems as if Republicans just want slightly dirtier water.
"We are pro-environment, too, just less so," is not a coherent philosophy.  But as long as Republicans keep merely reacting to the overreach of the left, that's how it’s going to look.
What Republicans need is a positive message, a way to champion the environment, one that is understandable and consistent with conservatism, and clearly delineated from the destructive approach of the left. 
The good news is that such a philosophy already exists: it's called conservationism. Even better, it is an approach with deep roots in the Republican Party: Teddy Roosevelt, founder of our national parks system, was its first political champion.
Decades before eco- became a mischievous prefix, there was conservationism. It is a pragmatic philosophy.  It takes the view that we all benefit from nature and therefore act as its careful stewards. It acknowledges that humans and the environment are inextricably linked. A conservationist preserves a forest, but also judiciously hunts and logs. 
A conservationist says, "We have been given this tremendous gift, and it's up to us to manage it wisely."
Environmentalism, however, is a sterner affair and qualifies as an ideology, one that views man as outside nature and its mortal enemy. Progressives get certain memes in their heads—population bomb, climate change, sustainable—and turn them into religious manias. Rational thought is discarded. They talk about high-sounding goals, but never weigh the concrete results of their policies.
Yes, it would be wonderful if all our energy came from hydropower or solar, but conservatives point out the disastrous economic effects of pursuing such pristine goals in a precipitous manner. To the environmentalist, this is irrelevant.
Conservationists take a judicious "cost/benefit" view of nature, while environmentalists do not. Conservationists husband resources for both use and aesthetic pleasure, while environmentalists believe that nature has innate “rights” that supersede our own.
Nature is a blessing. It is to be respected and preserved, but for our own benefit. The cost of everything must be weighed against the benefits. One hundred years ago, Republicans had this right, and it is time to look back in order to move forward.