The Problem with Environmentalism Is Environmentalists

by Mark Krikorian

Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support each of the following predictions:

In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution . . .

By 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half . . .

That’s from the January 30, 1970, issue of Life magazine, in the run-up to the first Earth Day, 44 years ago today. Jon Gabriel over at Ricochet has a greatest-hits list of the most ridiculous, hyperbolic environmental predictions made at the time. It is altogether fitting and proper that we mock their apocalyptic silliness.

But let us not overshoot the mark and neglect the need for an appropriate concern for conservation of the Lord’s handiwork. Genesis tells us that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Indeed it is. Worshipping nature, as too many of those who call themselves environmentalists do, is idolatry. But having been granted dominion — at least in our tiny corner of Creation — over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, we have a responsibility to be good stewards.

And we have become better stewards — our air and water are cleaner, much forest has regrown, we use far less energy and other resources to produce the same amount of wealth. Government policy has no doubt played a role in these improvements, but not as much of one as the left imagines. Technological advances have played a large role, but so have evolving public preferences — people like clean air, green spaces, and the Grand Canyon.

This is why a conservative vision of environmental stewardship is imperative. Too often Republicans respond to the legitimate desire for better stewardship by adopting a me-too environmentalism, complaining about the excesses of the EPA, BLM, NPS, and so on, but without offering an alternative framework. This is not to say there hasn’t been any thinking on the issue; Duke hosted a conferences a couple of years ago on “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future,” the papers from which are here, and Steven Hayward has been writing about this for years.

People want someone to speak for the trees. More of us on the right need to do so, but in our own language, not in a bastard version of the left’s.