Commentary: Why climate change should be a conservative issue
The word “conservative” means something different today than it used to.
Conservatives have traditionally understood the importance of stability – and the dangers of disrupting the established order. They considered it a responsibility to preserve their heritage and pass it down intact to the next generation.
Conservatives have been the guardians of tradition because they saw that what our forebears created is a great achievement, built with difficulty over time.
They understood that it is harder to improve on the order handed down to us than many people of a more liberal mindset realize. Disrupting the existing order tends to be dangerous, unless it is done with great care and wisdom.
This fundamental conservative insight, which I respect, applies not just to our cultural heritage but also to the natural order on which all life on earth depends. Destabilizing any part of that natural order – including the planet’s climate system – creates dangerous disorder.
All life on Earth is adapted to the environment as it has been. Sudden environmental change can only be destructive. If we destabilize the Earth’s climate, the havoc we create will adversely affect the lives of our children and grandchildren.
As a wise conservative would know, one form of disorder fosters other kinds. Already, we can see – in the Syrian Civil War – how disorder in our climate system can generate disorder in the international political system.
The whole Syrian crisis has its roots in a drought that struck Syria’s farmland – a drought that’s part of the growing pattern of extreme weather unleashed by the disruption of the Earth’s climate. This drought drove hordes of people off the land and created chaos that led to war.
The Syrian conflict has generated the migration crisis of this summer, which is putting a great strain on the nations of Europe. The disorder in Syria has also fostered the emergence of ISIS, and opened the door to the unwelcome intrusion of the Russian military.
We are still in the beginning stages of the destabilization of our climate, and international political disorder threatens to get much worse. Imagine how dangerous the world will be for our children and grandchildren if the international order is torn apart by perhaps even a dozen simultaneous conflicts like the Syrian Civil War.
And it is not only such international disorder that threatens their future.
- Food may well become scarce.
- Important coastal lands will certainly be submerged beneath rising seas.
- Fresh water may be hard to come by.
- Many more species will disappear forever in a wave of what is already being called “The Sixth Extinction.”
Unlike previous waves of extinction – precipitated by collisions with asteroids or massive volcanic activity – this one will be caused by one of Earth’s species: humankind.
Our religious tradition tells us that we are the only creatures that possesses knowledge of good and evil. We humans are the ones who are required to make moral choices. And now – virtually all the world’s climate experts agree -we are morally obligated to take action against further disruption of the earth’s climate.
Knowing that our behavior is creating dangerous disorder, wouldn’t a true conservative say:
“We need to make those changes in what we’re doing necessary to preserve the order we were given. We owe it to our ancestors, and we owe it to our descendants. If we sacrifice our own grandchildren out of short-sighted greed and ambition, what are we? And how will they forgive us?”
No true conservative would knowingly squander a vital part of his heritage, just for short-term enrichment. Nor would he lie, as many of our so-called conservative politicians are doing, about the reality of the challenge.
A true conservative would face this challenge as selflessly as if the nation were at war.
All the world’s advanced nations have conservative political parties. But our nation’s Republican Party is the only one that denies the validity of climate science and denies the need to act to preserve our planet.
What kind of conservatism is that?
Andy Schmookler’s new book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It.”
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