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Environment

Beware of Labels

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJune 6, 2012 8:32 PM

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As I mentioned yesterday, I participated in a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on environmentalism. The event centered on Roger Scruton's new book, "How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism." (My fellow panelists included Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University and Kenneth Greene, an AEI resident scholar, who has posted his comments.) I'm traveling today, so I don't have time to gather my thoughts on the event or delve into the book (will return to it in a few days). But meanwhile, AEI's Steven Hayward captured its theme well, when he said

it is difficult to summarize [Scuton's] book in a short blog post, beyond saying that he believes we should rest our environmentalism on "oikophilia," love of place"”meaning, our local places. In other words, instead of "Think Globally, Act Locally," as the bumper sticker slogan goes, Scruton argues we should think locally, too.

I'll just briefly add that the book scrambles my conceptions of "conservative." That's probably because my framework is political and U.S.-centric. For example, I don't see Scruton's conservationist ethic and concerns for biodiversity expressed in today's GOP. But that is the subject for another post (it came up during the panel, when Sarewitz asked why, in accordance with the conservative environmental values laid out in Scruton's book, U.S. Republicans don't stake out the environment as their own issue). The danger of categorization--of putting people people in simplistic boxes--was also made apparent to me by this article in today's Guardian. I'm not that familiar with British politics, but I just assumed that anyone closely identified with environmentalist causes would fit more naturally in the Labour party. But clearly that is not the case:

The influential Tory MP Zac Goldsmith says the intense focus on climate change in the last decade has encouraged politicians and environment groups to drop key green issues like air pollutionbiodiversity and food and avoid reform of the economic system. "Climate change went too far. A lot of stuff slipped off the agenda. The environment became about carbon and not the environment that you can feel and touch and see. Food, biodiversity, air quality all got knocked off. When we talked about forests we talked about them as sticks of carbon.

 Then there's this a little further down in the piece:

Jonathon Porritt, former chair of the Ecology party and head of the Sustainable Development Commission, says that Margaret Thatcher and her environment secretary Nicholas Ridley did more than anyone in the last 60 years to put green issues on the national agenda and swell the membership of groups like Friends of the Earth.

In the United States, membership rolls of environmental groups also swelled when Thatcher's political soul mate across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan, occupied the White House. But it was in response to his perceived anti-environmental policies--and the anti-environmental rhetoric and actions of Republicans in Congress at the time. Since then, the trend has continued: Membership rises in green groups when Republicans are in power. Today, because of this history (reinforced in recent years by the GOP's hostility to climate science) but also because of the demagoguery of American greens, Republicans have been tagged as anti-environmental. Subsequently, environmentalism has become closely associated with liberalism and the Democratic party. But in the UK, green issues don't seem to be so monolithically associated with one political party and environmentalists are not so easily labeled. Why is this?

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