Thursday, 18 February 2010

Why has environmentalism become a left wing issue?

Something important has been happening in the last couple of years. The right, at least in the UK where I live, has been getting more and more anti-green. I suspect the same is happening in the US. I am not sure why. There seems no particular reason why being green should be anti-right. In fact it was only a few years ago that I found that most of the objections where being raised by the hard left, who saw environmentalism as a middle-class conspiracy to stop industrial development. What has caused the change?

Take pollution control for example. While the right may struggle and thrash against the idea of rules and regulations on industry, in many cases these are laws that have existed for decades. In terms of dumping, chemical discharge, pesticide use, illegal logging etc.. these could just as easily be issues of law and order, which the right normally takes a strong line on.

The same is true about the misdeeds of British companies abroad, or foreign companies here. In many, many cases, the actions of these companies are already in breach of law and order, or of international corruption treaties.

Climate change though is the issue which has really split the right. Some see it as a communist plot. Others see it as the mother of all regulation. Some just see it as a tiresome distraction. Many believe it is completely made up. But why? Many of the solutions of climate change should appeal to the right. Decentralised energy puts power in the hands of individuals, and takes it away from monopolistic companies or state controlled actors. Renewable energy should free us from complicated entanglements with the Middle East and Russia, and stop us supporting foreign dictators. Moving away from coal would avoid the threat of being held hostage by organised labour. Trying to cut airmiles by building a local, more self sufficient economy again seems to fit with the right wing ideal.

And what about conservation? Well this is the one area that seems to the environmental strong suit of the right. The idea of maintaining parks and protecting impressive species seems to appeal. But the broader aspects of conservation, such as rewilding, species reintroduction, inviolate zones etc.. seem harder to swallow (for many on the left too).

I am not sure what the reasons are. Perhaps right wing people just don’t care about the environment or other people? I don’t want to believe that. Perhaps the fact that the hard left has adopted environmentalism so readily (and this is of concern to me too) put them off? It shouldn’t. Is it simply that crimes committed by companies and business men don’t count? Is it the Americanisation of the UK right? I suspect there is an element of all these things, but I have another theory as well. In order to communicate the environmental crises facing us, politicians and NGOs have been forced to turn to the people they felt would be most responsive, and in many cases this was the broad left. Recent studies show that people respond to science that agrees with their own point of view. Thus is the messages have been pitched to the left, they may have alienated the right.

Either way we are now in position where we need to urgently engage the broad right. There are simply too many of them to ignore.

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