environmentalismFollowing the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on human society and the environment, many have lauded what it says about the climate. The Sierra Club pontificated that “Pope Francis’ guidance as a pastor and a teacher shines a light on the moral obligation we all share to address the climate crisis that transcends borders and politics.” The Center for Biological Diversity also praised the Holy Father’s “bold call for climate action” which “highlight[s] our moral duty to protect vulnerable people and our environment from global warming.” These popish stalwarts have been oddly silent about Francis’ condemnation of population control programs dressed up as environmentalism.

It is no surprise that progressive statists love the Bishop of Rome’s challenge to the fossil fuel-driven capitalist economy. But what are conservatives, who are sometimes said to hate environmentalism, to make of the message? The Pope lays down some expectations on this point: Christians who ridicule or ignore environmental concerns are challenged to an ecological conversion. (LS 217) Those bringing irony and disdain for doomsday predictions need not apply. (LS 161)

So, are conservatives done hating environmentalism? It depends, as it always does, on what the terms mean: what is environmentalism, and what is hating? Does one hate environmentalism, or the environment, by refusing to subscribe to the Sierra Club’s prescriptions? Rod Dreher, neologizer of the term “crunchy cons” (environmentalist conservatives) has argued that conservatives hate environmentalism (e.g., they lack interest in global warming) because concern for the environment has not been adequately framed for conservatives.

I have spent decades engaged in framing questions of property and natural resource use for judges, lawyers, legislators, regulators, lobbyists, activists, and voters. Framing is how advocates elicit agreement from those whose consent is needed, but whose priorities lead elsewhere. In general, it is the expedient thing to do when trying to persuade someone who does not share your principles.

Framing turns out to be one of the problems here. Conservatives experience environmentalism primarily as a program to frustrate property rights and economic and social freedom, which activists frame as concern for life (moral equivalence of the natural world with human needs), the poor (environmental justice), economic prosperity (green jobs), and messianic purpose (changing the future variation of the climate, all over the world). Conservatives look behind the stated intentions of passionate reformers to follow the money and the power. And when they examine many environmentalist claims this way, they tend to find an effort to hide the first principles. They see framing instead of truth.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ exclusion of climate moderates from a supposed scientific conference leading up to Laudato Si’s release reinforces this diagnosis. The Academy’s absurd assertion of consensus while excluding dissenting voices may have a homey feel to those who know their way around a faculty lounge, but it tells serious observers that the point is to spread propaganda, not knowledge.

So what do conservatives, especially Christians, find when they think their way around the framing to the principles? They find professional environmentalists to be deeply misanthropic. With reason: the Foundation for Deep Ecology’s Platform blithely states that the “flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population.” The next sentence asserts that such a decrease is required for nonhuman life to flourish. Nor is the Foundation for Deep Ecology an outlier. Robert Zubrin’s recent book, Merchants of Despair, details the broad connections between the population control and international environmental movements.

do908 laudato si'Crunchy cons will protest that this is not the style of environmentalism being argued for, and that Francis expressly condemns population control and more generally criticizes extreme environmentalism in Laudato Si. That he does. (LS 50, 90-91) And, Francis gives Christians sound reasons for caring about and acting on environmental issues, based on a deep theological reflection on the nature of creation. (LS 64) But that does not make Francis the intellectual leader of environmentalism. Dreher’s crunchy cons do not even remotely share the field with the extremists in this movement. Radicals dominate the legal, policy, funding and cultural aspects of environmentalism. This establishment is constantly framing its radicalism to appeal to those who, on the natural, decline to enlist in the cause of substantially decreasing the human population. This is how many conservatives understand environmentalism: one face of the culture of death, masquerading (or framing itself) as normal and even conservative.

And yet, Francis reasonably distinguishes extreme misanthropic forms of environmentalism. Setting the radicals aside for a moment, does the Pope make a conservative case for environmentalism? Why would conservatives lack interest in that?

To advance the dialogue for which Francis calls, it is necessary to face what environmentalism has wrought for conservatives, and communities with which they identify, especially in the American West. The Progressive settlement of the Western states centered on federally managed natural resource bases (forests, irrigation and power projects, grazing and mining enterprises). Under this paradigm, countless rural communities relied for generations on the productive use of federally managed lands. Environmentalism has done enormous direct harm to the communities, trades, and traditional ways of life that were organized around these federally controlled resources. Environmentalist demands are framed to sound simple and self-evidently proper to conservative urbanites or Easterners (“no more corporate welfare!”), but the truth hidden in the framing is that these are matters of cultural life and death to rural Americans in the West. One thinks that Francis would approve of these communities generally. He speaks eloquently about local communities destroyed by irresponsible foreign investment. But Laudato Si’s repeated encouragement to environmental groups to continue their efforts fails to appreciate that many environmentalists have been actively destroying communities, local resource bases, and traditional ways of life.

s-b3fdbd3ccc5ebaa84ef587b6095c7b9805d3fe13Francis also calls for more restrictive environmental laws and more aggressive enforcement. But the arbitrary and punitive enforcement of high-minded environmental laws by the modern administrative state is a deeply anti-conservative reality today. Too many small farmers and landowners on the receiving end of these laws find their property converted into government run preserves, through means that offend the conservative principle of the rule of law. Injury piles on insult as the victims of these impositions learn that the constitutional guarantees of due process and compensation have not caught up with these types of takings. This bureaucratic tyranny is egged on by activists, who tout themselves and the bureaucrat as the sole authorities for how someone else’s property is to be conserved.

Property is another point of departure for conservatives and environmentalism. Francis recites the reasonable relationship which the Church always has between property and the common good, but applying the general principles leads quickly to a lot of details, where many devils lurk. Conservatives certainly believe in and practice what many today trendily call ‘stewardship.’ Conservatives are more than happy to conserve what is theirs. They do not care for those who claim the authority to conserve what is not theirs. Here again, framing environmentalism for a conservative audience founders on a conservative principle: responsibility for and authority over one’s own property, and respect for other people’s property and the reasonable choices they make with it.

On issues of the commons, conversely, conservatives can be thoroughly “environmentalist.” There may be someone who honestly likes smog and self-identifies as conservative, but I doubt it. Conservatives object to dumping toxic waste in rivers, and couches and refrigerators on country roads, on the conservative legal principles of trespass and nuisance, and the protection of the common good. So, why doesn’t principled concern for the common good yield conservative support for the ultimate tragedy of the commons, anthropogenic climate change? Objection to smog, but not to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, suggests that instead of hating environmentalism as such, conservatives are choosier about whether they find environmental claims credible.

Many conservatives remain unpersuaded by the alarming predictions and hypotheses advanced by environmentalists, because they investigate and find them unsupported or rebutted by other arguments. But conservatives are also inherently skeptical of doomsday predictions, and are unlikely to change this perspective merely because Francis explicitly tells them to. The role of greenhouse gas emissions in multi-decadal climate forecasting is the prime example, but there are many others. When every email from the Center for Biological Diversity warns that the end is near, one suspects they are writing from a political or even religious perspective, rather than a scientific one. There’s that framing thing again.

climate-change22But is there no common ground? Part of the problem is that environmentalism as such consists in one side, and only one side, of every important question having to do with meeting human needs in the natural world. Environmentalism as such opposes houses, freeways, forestry, mining, farming, manufacturing, electric generation, and every other human activity, because these are the opposite of the environment. Not just this one, here today, but all of them, everywhere, always. That is its first principle.

This is not a conservative world view, and it is why framing is part of the problem, not a solution. Conservatives are suspicious of crunchy con arguments in favor of environmental goals precisely because they sound like the radical agenda being misrepresented (or framed) to appeal to conservatives—“you should support greenhouse gas limits because you recognize that God made the world and it is good.” Well, God did make the world, and it is good, and Laudato Si is a beautiful theological and anthropological reflection on these truths with important lessons for human society. But the rest is a non sequitur if the anthropogenic carbon dioxide level is not harming the world (a question well outside Francis’s charter). And if harm is being done, a concrete and authentic love for the environment says nothing about how to prevent or redress it, let alone provide any support for the least-conservative-thing-in-the-history-of-the-world UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change.

A reassessment of the value of non-consumptive goods in the created world has certainly been in order since the industrial revolution, and Francis has solidly advanced the work on this topic that his immediate predecessors began. But with its subordination of human needs to the supposed demands of nature, modern environmentalism cannot credibly convince conservatives that it has accomplished or even contributed much to that reappraisal. Environmentalism as a movement also derives too much from the administrative state and the rejection of property rights and the rule of law for it to appeal to conservatives. When the movement fails to elicit conservative support for its practical goals, the problem is not inadequate framing, or failing to selectively quote Francis effectively. It is the lack of foundational principles that are actually conservative.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
29 replies to this post
  1. The Warmists should realize that when their leaders are flying around in Gulfstreams to attend various “Climate change” conferences where they will be driven around in limos, after which they return to their heated and air conditioned mansions, then maybe those of us in the Peasant Class will naturally regard them as frauds and ditto for their cause.

    • Eric,
      There are a couple of problems with what you are saying. First, not all leaders in the ‘Warmist’ movement fly around in their own jets being chauffeured in limousines. Second, validity of global climate change theory advanced by those who are convinced by the evidence is not affected by any hypocrisy of its leaders. Those in the Roman Church should be well aware of that fact.

      The real issue regarding global climate change is what changes must we make to both society and the economic system to account for both man’s contribution to the changing climate and the need to lift others out of poverty. This is the real issue because our objectivity in examining the evidence and arguments depends on that willingness to change.

      Those who enjoy the status quo will appeal to both authoritarianism and utilitarianism in their opposition to changes necessitated by changes in the climate . In the immediate end, those who oppose those necessary changes will seem justified because the biggest changes will come in the next few generations. The losers will be those who live here a generation or two after we have passed away.

      • Also, Warmism seems to be far more of a political movement than a scientific one, and the ones pushing the global warming agenda most aggressively are politicians and not scientists.

        • Eric,
          I will try responding one more time in a more abbreviated fashion. The claim that the warmist movement is more political seems to overlook the fact that nearly 200 scientific worldwide organizations agree that human activity is causing climate change. Around 21 of those organizations are American organizations including:

          1. American Association for the Advancement of Science
          2. American Association of State Climatologists
          3. American Astronomical Society
          4. American Chemical Society
          5. American Geophysical Union
          6. American Institute of Physics
          7. American Geophysical Union
          8. American Meteorological Society
          9. American Society of Civil Engineers
          10. Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

          • Curt Day,

            Your argument supports the idea that Warmism is more a political movement than a scientific one. Many of these groups possess absolutely no expertise in the extraordinarily complex field of climate science, and most of these groups would have only a small number of members who do. Yet they are taking positions on this issue. Why?

            Studies have shown that science faculty in universities are no different from humanities faculty in their overwhelming leftism and Democratic Party allegiance. What these groups you cite have in common is not an academic discipline (they are in many different disciplines) but a political ideology.

          • Bill,
            The association for climate scientists and the geophysical union, does not qualify as experts whose expertise is irrelevant here? In addition, what the other scientific groups bring to the table is an understanding what qualifies as a valid study and what doesn’t. And being scientists, they do have more background information than the average citizen regarding the science being referenced in climate science reports.

            BTW, how many organizations of climate scientists are there in our own nation?

            No, what I cited here does not support the idea that the Warmist movement is a political movement. Rather, and you can check the NASA record on this, a vast majority of climate scientists are convinced by the evidence. In addition, a significant majority of the peers of these scientists from other scientific disciplines support the conclusions.

            BTW, you might want to document your claim about scientists being supporters of the Democratic, which, of course, implies, according to your statements that they are to biased to look at the evidence with enough fairness to do their job. Even the connection you are drawing shows a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Plus, engineers, from what engineers tell me, tend to be political conservatives and one of the groups that agree with the climate scientists is the association of civil engineers (not sure of the exact name off hand).

  2. Does anyone really change their views on what the Pope says on non-religious issues? We’ve had Popes condemning abortion now for decades and the Liberal Catholics haven’t changed their minds and now with an sort of anti capitalist Pope conservatives aren’t going to change their minds either. And where you stand on the environment is not going to change because the Pope sides with the global warmists. The data is the data and how one interprets the ambiguous data is not going to change because the Holy Father sees it differently. I won’t.

  3. The problem, Mr. Day, is that the hypocrisy at the top of the Warmist movement is routine, a feature not a bug, as it were. When the leadership of a movement is full of hypocrites, it’s fair to conclude the movement itself is bogus.

    • Eric,
      Besides the vast number of scientists who are convinced by the evidence that climate change is from human activity, before making the claim you are making here, you need to identify the leaders of the Warmist movement and list the hypocrisy they are engaged in. Those who would like to discredit a whole movement because of the actions of some of the leaders should be aware of the Roman Church’s hopefully past problem with hypocrisy as well.

      But even with any hypocrisy, the number and percentage of scientists saying they are convinced by the evidence lends credibility to the Warmist movement.

  4. “seems to overlook the fact that nearly 200 scientific worldwide organizations agree that human activity is causing climate change. ”

    All this is proof that science has been corrupted by politics. In an era where anyone who questions the global warming dogma is labeled a “Denier”, few scientists are likely to challenge the hand that feeds them, so to speak. Who controls their funding? Politicians. So these folks will simply tell their Masters what they want to hear.

    • Eric,
      This is only proof if you assume the conclusion that climate change is not occurring and that if it occurring, it is not being caused by human activity. Otherwise, all you can say is that any group of people can be corrupted. But you have no evidence that that has occurred in this case.

      BTW, the label in the studies which is officially used for those scientists who do not believe that human activity is causing warming is not ‘deniers,’ but those who are not convinced by the evidence. It is only in your pop references that those who are convinced by the evidence are called ‘deniers.’

      And again, your last statement is a simple assumption. If you want to continue the first cause search here, you should note that those who control the politicians are the corporations, including the energy corporations.

      Finally, to my knowledge, none of my colleagues received research funding from any politicians who were in office.

      • Mr Day;

        If you haven’t heard the term “Global Warming denier” then I suggest you haven’t been paying attention to the rhetoric your side routinely churns out. And, as for:

        “you should note that those who control the politicians are the corporations, including the energy corporations.”

        If this were true, the Keystone Pipeline would have been approved years ago. The only thing stopping it is Obama’s left wing ideology.

        • Eric,
          If it weren’t true, keystone pipeline would have already been denied. both here and in Canada. What is stopping it is activists, but activism only has so much influence.

          Your statement assumes that the keystone pipeline is the only area in which money tries to influence politics. Military budgets, medicare budgets that don’t allow for price negotiation on pharmaceuticals, Obamacare, private prison budgets, and military budgets are just a few areas where money rules in politics.

          • “If it weren’t true, keystone pipeline would have already been denied. both here and in Canada. What is stopping it is activists,”

            Activists who hate blue collar workers. Snooty elitists who have never driven a bulldozer or forklift in their lives, and who sneer at those who do. Note how the left wing never cares about real workers, that’s why Obama (a snooty elitist) sides with the tree huggers over the guys who wear hard hats, who he cannot relate to at all.

          • Eric,
            This is my second time trying to respond. First, you make the implication that opposing the keystone pipeline includes hating blue colloar workers. Really? Can you show that people who oppose the pipeline do so because of other factors. In fact, while there are other possible reasons for opposing the pipeline than the one you listed, your statement cannot be supported.

            But more than that, one only needs to look at all of the legislation to see how money controls politics. Plus, if activists were so successful in stopping the Keystone pipeline, why is Obama still undecided?

  5. “you need to identify the leaders of the Warmist movement and list the hypocrisy they are engaged in. ”

    Actually, they are so famous I don’t *need* to do any such thing. But we could start with the current occupant of the White House, who routinely flies around the world in a giant, gas guzzling 747 when he could easily downgrade to a Gulfstream or even a Learjet (tho Michelle might object to the latter). He could replace the presidential limo with a Prius, again, it might cramp Her Highness’s style, but I’m sure the Secret Service could find a way to make it bulletproof.

    • Eric,
      A rule in logic says that if you are going to prove your case by example, you must account for all examples. If the number of examples is uncountable, then you cannot prove your case by example.

  6. Also, it should be noted that it’s been 25 years since Al Gore released his infamous “Earth in the Balance”, and the weather really hasn’t changed any since then. Regular people notice this, then hear the “Experts” telling them the sky is falling, and they realize they’re being lied to.

    • Eric,
      It should be noted that even with the pause in global warming from 2000 to 2010 where the highest temperatures stayed the same but the lower ones did not, more updated information shows that that pause has ended especially with the year 2014.

      What people who are convinced by the evidence are pointing out are the effects that the buildup of CO2 has on both the earth and the climate. This includes the release of methane from the melting of the Arctic Circle’s permafrost to the possibility of an ice-free arctic in the near future and the possible changes brought about in the weather from this melting to the increased number of dead zones in the ocean from its absorption of both chemicals from chemical runoffs and CO2. The extinction rates have changed as well. One thing your note does not account for is that most of the changes about which those convinced by the evidence have been warning us about will be primarily experienced by generations living in the near future, not in our own lives. Thus, looking at the past 25 years is not a valid test of whether we have been told the truth or lied to.

      And it’s not that the earth hasn’t seen some of these phenomena before. The issue is what changes are we bringing upon ourselves by how our way living changes the environment. This doesn’t mean that all of the changes we are solely determined by human activity, but, again, that is not the issue. The issue revolves around the changes we are bringing on ourselves and others from our way of living.

      • “It should be noted that even with the pause in global warming from 2000 to 2010 where the highest temperatures stayed the same but the lower ones did not, more updated information shows that that pause has ended especially with the year 2014.”

        Thing is, these temperature changes, both up and down, are of such a minuscule nature that the average person doesn’t notice them at all. I mean, if you tell me the Mississippi river has risen an inch in the last 100 years, well, I’m not exactly going to rush out and build an Ark.

        • Eric,
          Global Warming occurs over longer time period than what can be measured from year to year. In addition, there are multiple factors that affect global temperature. The point being is that we cannot continually add to the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere and the oceans without consequences. And yet, the modern way of consumerism and capitalism is doing just that. And much of the conservative reaction is to deny that changing the atmosphere and oceans can significantly change our environment and how habitable earth is.

          BTW, not all models point to global warming. A shutdown of the gulfstream and its extension to the North Atlantic can bring very cold temperatures to the the extent of a mini ice age to the Northern Hemisphere. Other models point to effects such as warming. Trying to measure that from year to year when the worse effects will occur 2 to 3 generations from now becomes self-deceiving. We become like the people who heard Noah preach.

          What can’t be denied is the increased percentage of CO in the atmosphere and oceans, the increase in dead zones in our seas, the melting of the permafrost and its resulting release of methane gas, the gradual disappearance of ice both in its extent and thickness in the north pole, the increase in extreme storms, the increased number of species that are becoming extinct, and so on. Such are not the projections from models on what will happen; it is what can be observed today. That how many of us live is affecting the environment.

          • “Global Warming occurs over longer time period than what can be measured from year to year.”

            If it can’t be measured, then maybe it doesn’t exist.

            “The point being is that we cannot continually add to the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere”

            CO2 is a trace gas. It exists in such tiny quantities that you have to use small fractions of one percentage point to notice it at all.

            “And yet, the modern way of consumerism and capitalism is doing just that. ”

            This is why global warming is about politics and not science. It is all about hating freedom, prosperity, and success. If the Warmists had their way, we’d all be living in caves, in the dark, eating worms for food. No thanks.

          • Eric,
            Why do you twist things? I didn’t say things can’t be measured. I did say that some things are measured from year to year.

            But there are things that can be measured now and I have mentioned them before.

  7. I would add one final point, and that’s that the global warming promoters have greatly overplayed their hand. If they had said “It is possible the planet’s average temperature may rise by 2 or 3 degrees over the next several centuries”, reasonable people might say “Well, that sounds plausible. Maybe we should do something about it.” But that’s not what happened. What we got instead was predictions of **catastrophic** global warming, apocalyptic “We’re all going to DIE!!” panic scenarios. In short, they sounded like a bunch of lunatics to normal people, and worse, lunatics with a distinct political agenda. What do Al Gore and Barack Obama know about science? Nothing. But they know plenty about politics and how to use fear to manipulate people. Or, as a famous American once put it:

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

    H. L. Mencken

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.

    H. L. Mencken

    • Eric,
      My listening and reading of the the global warming warnings is a bit different than yours. I’ve read that the temps can increase from 2 to 4 degrees Celsius and that can occur in around 100 years. Such an increase can have dramatic effects on the environment and how habitable it is.

      I have heard anyone yelling that we are all going to die. But what is often talked about is weather changes and extremes as well as ocean dead zones and sea levels. Sea levels are important because of our coastal cities. What is at risk there is what kind of exodus from the coastal areas will be required. In other areas, we are talking about droughts in areas where we depend on the mass production of food.

      • My parents live in Florida. Right on the ocean. Sea levels haven’t risen at all. The whole global warming thing is bogus, a scam. It is pushed by fear mongering politicians to get what politicians want most – more power and control over us, the proles. These are the same oinkers who push for gun control schemes while they themselves are protected by the Secret Service – who, of course, have guns.

        • Eric,
          Again, my second time trying to respond. What those who are convinced by the evidence are saying is that we will have a certain rise in the sea level by 2100. So how long have your parents lived in Florida? What devices are they using to measure the sea level?

          See, you’re not interested in discussing issues. You are more interested in making accusations about people you oppose. And it doesn’t matter whether they are political leftists or those convinced by the evidence, you are intent on making accusations. BTW, there are religious and even political conservatives who are convinced by the evidence.

          Here we should note what the scriptures say about how we should talk to and about others. So I will leave the conversation here. Please read those scriptures.

  8. Part of the problem is American conservatism has come to be rather unconservative.

    Take laissez-faire capitalism as an example. It is one of the most radical systems ever instituted in history. I’m neither for or against radicalism, on principle. But I wish those who support such views would have the self-awareness and honest to admit that this is radicalism, not conservatism.

    The radicalism of capitalism has had some advantages, such as making for a dynamic society. But it also has made a highly unstable society. Plus, the materialism and consumerism of laissez-faire capitalism are inherently opposed to Christian principles.

    Liberals end up being some of the strongest defenders of genuine conservatism in advocating not only the conserving of the environment but also the conserving of communities. Whereas the American political right merely becomes ever more reactionary, not the same thing as conservative.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: