Put Conservation Back in Conservatism

by: Charlotte Story
Freshman, Chesmistry and Italian
Charlotte, NC
cmstory@live.unc.edu

Environmentalism is an issue that has been traditionally ceded to the left and Democrats have typically been the most vocal proponents of environmental awareness and protection. However environmentalism is clearly a bipartisan issue. We all live on this planet and naturally we all want to protect it. Historically, Republicans have been more involved on environmental issues than they are today; Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan famously headed early conservation movements and Nixon created the EPA. So why do conservatives find themselves on the opposing side of most environmental efforts today? Why are conservatives painted as the big despots of businesses who cut down rain forests without a qualm?

As a conservative conservationist, I find that the Republican Party falls short on environmental issues. There are two problems: a PR problem and a policy problem. The Republican Party’s platform says, “Conservation is a conservative value” and proceeds to express support for responsible use of natural resources. Though Republicans may reject policies that aren’t economically feasible, they fail to cooperatively push for viable alternatives. They need to sell economically feasible environmentalism.

Some of this new positive voice toward environmentalism might come in the form of new open-mindedness. Conservatives are rightfully aware of just how powerful our government has become and I feel the fear of government over-involvement is a legitimate one. The fear of unregulated use of natural resources is also legitimate and it needs to be addressed. A tidbit from Econ 101 was the idea of the “tragedy of the commons.” Businesses don’t have incentives to use the environment responsibly when left alone. Not only is this unsustainable, it has serious implications for public health.  Republicans should be more open-minded about allowing government to create incentives, be they taxes, environmental law, or pollution permits that encourage conservation and the efficient, responsible use of natural resources. Republicans should support moving toward more sustainable energy use at a pace that won’t negatively impact our economy.

Many old-school conservatives focus on government over-involvement in the economy and the private sector. The emphasis of federal government involvement should be on national defense and the protection of individual liberty. I would argue that conservation and environmentalism is a form of national defense. The simplest illustration is an environmental law which prevents businesses from polluting drinking water and endangering public health. In the long run, unsustainable use of natural resources will lead to their depletion. The implications of such a disaster are self-evident.

While I may have flunked the test, I do remember another thing my Econ professor said about negative externalities. Without some sort of intervention, a free market for a product with a negative externality fails to account for social costs. Environmental damage is a social cost that isn’t necessarily considered when a private transaction occurs.  To maximize social benefit, it’s actually more economically sound to adjust the market (via taxes or incentives), to find the socially beneficial price and quantity of a product with a negative externality.

There has been a good deal of talk about the direction the Republican Party will take in the next decade amid a polarizing political spectrum. The younger generation of Americans is much more environmentally conscious than its older counterpart. If the Republican Party hopes to attract more independents, conservative Democrats, and appeal to a wider base, it needs to address conservation more vocally on its own terms. It needs to move to a more moderate position, at least on this issue.

Three Wind Turbines

This article’s pictures can be found at: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=5791&picture=three-wind-turbines and http://www.ehow.com/energy-science-projects/.

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