For far too long, American conservatives have resisted acknowledging that climate change is real, let alone create substantive policy to counter it. It is tempting to immediately portray the entire Republican Party as the corrupt stooges of Big Oil — and while this is certainly the case for many politicians, I believe it is worth considering the factors that are steering voters to the party that is neglecting the crisis.
One factor is a lack of awareness of the scope and consequences of climate change, yet the voices of the environmental cause should consider how they have presented themselves to the electorate. We must acknowledge various hypocrisies that have cemented the niche of eco-skepticism endemic in the American liberal movement. Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, have all made please to us lesser mortals to stop killing the planet — only to promptly ignore their own advice as they t ravel the world in gas – guzzling private jets. The Paris Accord was a mere photo-op with no binding power — as evidenced by the reckless Amazon deforestation campaign undergone by Jair Bolsonaro despite the fact that Brazil was a signatory of that treaty.
However, conservatives need to stop thinking they are realists fighting hypocrites. The seas are full of plastic; species are vanishing. The ice caps and glaciers are melting. The earth is warming — literally burning in some places.
And while the conservative philosophy advocates for limited government, in the long run, the ever – worsening natural disasters linked to global warming will prompt increasingly drastic federal spending to repair the damage. Temporary inaction will only in – crease a future glut of government overreach. Yet this apathy in the face of a very real problem firmly rooted in the public consciousness will have political costs that conservatives are not grappling with.
As proclaimed by rising political stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a popular narrative is emerging that capitalism has created climate change and that socialism is the only solution to avert mass extinction.
Republicans need to adapt their party platform to support both the liberal free market and decisive environmental protections lest they lose relevance in American politics. Such an approach would acknowledge that while human development post – Industrial Revolution has destroyed wildlife and wreaked havoc on ecosystems worldwide, the capitalist economic system has lifted people out of poverty and created access to food and medicine previously unimaginable. It is vital that Republicans and moderate Democrats distinguish themselves from the radical options presented by the Green New Deal or the Climate Strike Manifesto. The solutions presented by these documents respectively — a controlled economy that pays for trillions of federal social projects not related to environmental protection with “modern monetary theory” which disregards the deficit crisis, or a demand of reparations to be paid by Britain for being the first to industrialise have very little to do with ecological protections, and reflect a radical and unproven doctrine of socioeconomic authoritarianism.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is seizing upon the climate crisis to advocate for economic policies in a manner that is fundamentally intellectually dishonest.
His dismissal of nuclear power, biofuels, and carbon taxes are part of a bizarrely exclusive attempt to whimsically plan the US economy without the input of the hundreds of millions in the workforce today. His “wealth tax” has been tried and discarded by many European nations, and hi s love affair with socialism and apparent support of Venezuelan economic policies recently led the Danish Prime Minister to point out the fact that his and Sanders’ policies have very little in common.
The “Nordic system” is neo-liberal capitalism with a thorough taxpayer funded welfare system. Corporate taxes are kept low to promote private enterprise, while sales taxes and income taxes remain high — a stark contrast to Sanders’ proposed progressive policies, which are largely rhetorically centered around seeking vengeance upon companies rather than reform and improving standards of conduct. Conservatives need to tackle the issue of climate change head on and recognise that aiding the economy and the planet are goals that are not in opposition to each other. North America does not have a deforestation problem. The owners of its forests realise that they must replenish their trees in order to stay financially viable as lumber providers. Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, when contracting workers to cut down the rainforest to sell lumber as a short term means o f revenue, has no such incentive.
The former is capitalism. The latter is fascism.
Private ownership is not an automatic guarantor of waste and greed. Most municipalities do not have plastic bag recycling initiatives. Supermarkets such as Whole Foods in the US and Morrisons in the UK have picked up the slack.
Colgate is making all of its toothpaste tubes biodegradable over the next few years. IKEA is making packaging out of biodegradable fungi products, Biofase has created bio-degradable “plastic” sourced from plants. Elon Musk turned electric cars from a mad science experiment into a luxury product, and scores of other manufacturers are following in Tesla’s tracks.
The common denominator is private ownership and innovation that would be hurt by high corporate taxes, not government think tanks in D.C. Companies are run by people, people who have stakes in Planet Earth remaining liveable, and just because many still require a legislative nudge in a sustainable direction doesn’t mean that America needs to get out the hammer and sickle quite yet.
To the progressive “moral majority” of macchiato Marxists who will no doubt criticise this stance, I challenge them to vote with their dollars and reject unsustainable purchases in their lives now instead of taking to Instagram to post wishful paeans to fictional government policies that will magically attain bipartisan support and solve climate change overnight. No one can demand of the public Greta Thunburg’s level of climate conscientiousness if they themselves are not walking the walk. New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s daily SUV ride to and from his Brooklyn gym, juxtaposed with his pious pontification on the importance of the Climate Strike comes to mind.
If the agenda of saving the planet is to be set by someone, I would much rather it be set by someone like former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who believes that strengthening the economy and saving the environment can both be achieved at the same time, rather than by Senator Bernie Sanders, who believes that the two goals are opposed to each other.
The former has a track record of environmental protection and job creation, the latter owns three homes and harangues voters about carbon foot – prints and housing inequality.
Conservatives have an urgent choice: to engage with the climate crisis or risk becoming irrelevant. I say to them: reclaim the ecological stance of Teddy Roosevelt or forever hold your peace.