August 13, 2023


How conservative is Net Zero?: The Tories are torching their green roots (ROBERT SAUNDERS, 8/13/23, UnHerd)

Tory environmentalists can point to a strong record on the issue, stretching back to the Fifties. It was Conservative governments that created the Department of the Environment, the National Parks Authorities, the Environment Agency and the Hadley Centre for Climate Research. Tory administrations introduced the Clean Air Acts, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Environment Act, as well as the Landfill Tax, the Road-Fuel Escalator and, in England, the Plastic Bag Charge. And it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, who made Net Zero a legal obligation.

When global warming first entered public consciousness in the Eighties and Nineties, it was Margaret Thatcher who sounded the most trenchant warnings. Addressing the World Climate Conference in 1990, she accused the world of "playing with the conditions" of life. "We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin", endangering "the biological balance ... on which human life depends". This was a distinctly Conservative environmentalism -- even taking care to warn business that "there will be no profit... for anyone if pollution continues to destroy our planet".

For Conservative environmentalists, this is not simply a record to defend. It is a reminder that there are powerful strands within Conservatism that can be mobilised against its climate sceptics. The first is the instinct to "conserve": the idea on which both "conservatism" and "conservation" are founded. For the Conservative intellectual Roger Scruton, global warming engaged "a fundamental moral idea to which conservatives attach great importance: the idea that those responsible for damage should also repair it". He drew inspiration from the writings of Edmund Burke and his call to partnership "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born". For Burke, the living were but the "temporary possessors and life-renters" of society. As such, they had a moral responsibility not to "commit waste on their inheritance by destroying at their pleasure", or "to leave to those who come after a ruin instead of a habitation".

That belief intersected with an emphasis, drawn from Christian conservatism, on "stewardship": the belief, as Margaret Thatcher once put it, that humans were not the lords of creation but "the Lord's creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged... with preserving life itself". As she told the Conservative party conference in 1988: "The core of Tory philosophy and the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy -- with a full repairing lease."

For much of its history, the Conservative Party was pre-eminently the party of the land; rooted, not just in the "landed interest", but in a patriotic commitment to the natural environment.

The combination of stewardship and Puritanism makes it a natural conservative issue.

Posted by at August 13, 2023 7:11 PM