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What I Think About … Conservative Environmentalism

John Stammreich is a fellow Knight of Columbus who is running for California state senate.  He noted on his Facebook page that he was “endorsed by Republicans for Environmental Protection, bringing conservative values to the environmental debate.” It got me to thinking about how environmental thinking should be informed by conservative values.

Respect for property rights.

There is a difference between public land and private land.  Private land is owned by someone, and the owner has a basic right to control what is done on the land.  This right is not absolute, but it is a primary right, similar to speech and religion. As long as the land owners actions do not place a substantial burden on others, government should not interfere.
Within reasonable bounds there is no problem converting public land to private land, as long as the owner is properly compensated.  There IS a problem imposing restrictions on private owners without compensation, and this should only be done sparingly.

Proper assignment of costs

When an action that imposes costs on others, I need to be responsible for those costs.  For instance, those who pollute should be responsible for the costs (medical, cleanup, etc.) that polluting imposes on the surrounding community.  When this is properly done, damage will be remediated, and poor behavior will be reduced because of the risk and costs.
This is an area where the government absolutely, positively needs to be involved.

Avoidance of absolutism, and striving for progress

The environmentists treat every problem as catastrophic, and refuse to consider incremental solutions or to (meaningfully) recognize progress.
No one disputes that air pollution is troubling. But it is indisputable that air quality is dramatically better today than at any time after the industrial revolution.  And it is getting steadily better.
This is really the conservative approach .. consistent improvement over time, rather than immediate elimination whatever the cost.

Recognition of costs and trade-offs

Nothing is free; environmental action has costs and impacts. The fact that a change might put people out of work or increase prices should not veto it, but the impacts of a change should be considered before it is determined to be necessary!

Legislative control

Far too much “environmental activism” is done through the courts and through stretching regulatory authority beyond where it was intended.  These are both contrary to the ideals of representative government and fundamentally “un-conservative”.

Engagement and dialogue

For too long, conservatives have ceded the moral high ground in this discussion to the environmental organizations. This needs to end.  Conservatives need to point out the flaws, errors, and problems in the current environmental agenda and past environmentalist action.
Things like the MTBE fiasco, the human costs of the Delta smelt ruling, the malaria resurgence in Africa due to the ban on DDT, and the impact of ethanol use on food prices need to be a part of the discussion.
Conservatives also need to acknowledge problems, and propose real solutions rather than simply opposing the pie-in-the-sky liberal “solutions”.

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  1. John Stammreich says

    Hello Tom – Thanks so much for the great write-up! I couldn’t agree more!

    I grew tired of liberal environmentalists painting conservatives into a corner with the ultimatums of global warming and many of the issues you talk about above. We have to step up and provide solutions that help protect our environment without scrapping the economic engine and working families that need to thrive to sustain it.

    I love your blog article and hope you do not mind me linking to it for fellow Knights and fellow conservatives who also understand the importance of the environmental /economic balance that Californians seek. I believe we can have both; it takes creativity, ingenuity & courage – something Americans have always found when needed.

    Thanks again,
    John Stammreich
    The next South Bay State Senator

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