An Appeal to Conservatives on the Environment

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I would like to hear from conservatives on a problem of the greatest urgency, a problem that, I suspect, is cemented in attitudes which are, if not genetically imprinted by now, then certainly culturally and religiously ingrained in all the peoples coming under the rubric of  "Western civilization". I conjecture that conservatives, by their own standards the guardians of tradition, would find it hard to break out of the mold of centuries of belief  and practice. They are committed to preserving tradition. Yet, if conservation  and preservation are at the core of conservative beliefs, do they not apply as well to something very basic to our existence: all the things of this Earth that make that existence possible. That is the conundrum: would you rather preserve traditional practices, or the "traditional" world – the world that our forebears knew in all their ignorance of it, and the world we see disappearing at an alarming rate.

What I want to explore are the reasons behind the constant neglect by conservatives of the environmental issues. We all know the story of the near-extinction of the cod stock  of the Grand Banks, which our expert biologists at the Fisheries Dept. did not see coming. Recently, a report by ecologist Richard Thomas to the Alberta's Environmental Protection Branch states that only some 9% of Alberta’s once-extensive northern forest remains as a wilderness area. Again, many of the "experts" are surprised. The Environment Minister concedes that the wilderness is nearly gone.

Although no political group or party  has done much in the environmental area, conservatives have always acted like ogres on the issue and have a bad reputation, whereas the Left, having talked the right kind of talk, but not really doing much of the walk, is perceived - at least at election time - as the  guardian angel of the environment.  Conservatives have been in a blinkered pursuit of the "bottom line" on just about every issue, including much of the environmental issue; you know -  jobs before everything else, and let’s not waste taxpayers' money by having government do things that are best left to the private sector. Where the Leftist activist will hug a tree to save it from being "processed", the conservative will see board-feet of lumber and the dollar equivalent that the leftist jerk is interfering with the orderly harvesting of.

I think that this is very wrong. First of all, it is true that all environmental interest groups, from the Sierra Club and Greenpeace on, are run by Leftists. The Leftists have often used these organizations for political "anti-conservative" activities. But often their attacks have had justifiable environmental argument.  Secondly, egged on by the leftist agitation, conservatives have made the situation even worse for themselves by sneering, not at the politics of the leftist spokespeople, but  at the very environmental issues that the spokespeople espouse. That is a stupid and dimwitted reaction, disastrous politically. The environmental degradation and public concern over it can only grow more serious in the future. I think that the political party which could dedicate itself to sincere and serious action on the environment could sweep into power like a tidal wave. But, the dedication to the environment must be sincere and material, dare I say in the face of some traditional "rights", even draconian.

I must ask why conservatives - by definition the preservers of everything good that has been handed down to us - appear so disinterested in conserving the environment and our natural resources. Could it be that conservatives are conditioned by millennia of  the "western" religious and cultural evolution to look at the environment  primarily, and perhaps solely, as something that is there to be exploited for the greater wealth and comfort of Man.

Some millennia ago already, the  men of the Judeo-Christian civilization had the acumen to write for themselves a carte blanche from God for exploitation of all natural resources. This is stated in Genesis 1: 26 - 28: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

To make sure that no one has any doubts about who the Earth belongs to, the message is reiterated in Genesis 9: 1-3.

John Locke discusses this  in "Adam’s Title by Donation" , as he calls it, in Chapter IV of The First Treatise of  Government. In The Second Treatise on Government, in Chapter  V - Of Property, Locke writes in #26: "God, who has given the world to men in common, has also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience. The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being."

Locke does add an admonishment against excessive indulgence of man’s appetites, in #31: "As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils; so much he may by his labour fix a property in. Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy."

Of course, Locke could not imagine the technologies for exploitation, processing and transportation, starting with refrigeration, that would make his limiting caveat "as much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils" meaningless.  In any case, in his day Locke was not concerned with the preservation of pristine wilderness, nor could he imagine that man could sweep the sea clean of life. Locke states in The Second Treatise, in #34: "God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated."

Is it not time for conservatives to take the bold step in faith and logic by declaring: "Whether we believe in a creator - God -  or not, and notwithstanding what has been written down in Western man’s holy scripts, we recognize that we have not been created in any other image but our own, and have been  granted no "right" to suzerainty over other creatures on Earth by any outside agent, and have but only the intelligent "might" by which we flourish at the expense of all other things on earth. It is  left  to our free will to decide how we use that intelligent might.  As conservatives we dedicate ourselves to being the "good stewards" - the preservers and conservers of the Earth’s environment, and consider it to be of the highest priority and  the "bottom-most" of all "bottom lines".

I grant that such a declaration calls for a "leap of faith". But I feel strongly that conservatives, known for sober thought and evaluation, are the best suited to make it.

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