25 April 2015

Conservatives, Environmentalism, and the Future

American conservatives have an uneasy relationship with the environmental movement. Maybe someday I'll do an in-depth research project on when and how this tension started, but this is a blog post, people, not a college paper. I haven't had to type up a Works Cited page in years. Do they still use MLA format in those fancy schools?

You know how it is, every time we have Earth Day or the Hour of Darkness or whatever environmental commemoration (I'm partial to the Three Days of Darkness, when the true pope will appear and all five genuine real authentic Catholics will be saved from the horrors that await; I'm out because I have a fondness for the rock and roll, but that's a side note). Liberals will make some token effort to save the Earth, like turning off their lights for an hour and navigating by the glow of their iPhones. Conservatives will respond by cranking the engine on their 90,000 horsepower SUV's and then dumping a million gallons of diesel fuel into the nearest lake. It's like, "Ha, stupid liberals; I will undo your pathetic gesture and then some."

Part of this is that many on the left are so easily aggrieved, and there is a certain delight in taunting them. Another factor is perceived hypocrisy. "Sure, turn off your lights for an hour, and then go back to your 24/7 electronic gadgets, your $5.00 cup of coffee shipped from South America, your monthly flights from liberal coast to liberal coast (skipping icky conservative "flyover country"), and your Dance Dance Revolution parties at Al Gore's house." Also, appeals to think of future generations run a bit hollow from people who put so much effort into thwarting the next generation through in utero violence and chemical sterilization (and hey, flooding our water system with hormones is probably fine).

There is also a suspicion that environmentalists are not really trying to save the environment; they are trying to halt American progress, so that our enemies may get the upper hand. One thinks of environmentalists in the '70s and '80s, fighting to restrict American industry, while praising the smog-choked skies of the Soviet Union. A modern equivalent would be someone saying, "You want to stop fracking, so we have to buy oil from the Muslims, Barack Hussein Obama!"

What else? Pantheists annoy theists, and some environmentalists are a bit on the pantheistic side. Many conservatives are Christians, and they believe in a distinction between Creator and created. That rock over there is a really pretty rock, and yes God made it, so praise Him, by all means. Just don't bow down and worship the rock. And don't tell people they are worth less than the rock, and they need to die or live in poverty so the rock can be preserved.

Continuing the religious point, Christians and other theists of a more conservative bent believe this world is not ultimately our home. All of this will pass away, and our true home will be in Heaven. So, if we have to plow over an acre of rain forest here and there so a few more people can come into the world, it's worth it. After all, we're talking about each individual person being an immortal being, one who may shine like the stars in the eternal glory of Heaven.

There is another set of Christians who believe the end of the age is near at hand, and therefore environmentalists are trying to preserve the world for a future that will not happen. Why should I give up my third Camaro, if Jesus is coming back next Thursday?

Here's the deal, though. All those points above might be true. Some environmentalists are crazy. Some liberals use the environment as an excuse to push their agenda. Some of their proposed solutions may make the problem worse. However, none of that excuses the apathetic or even hostile attitude so many conservatives have toward the environment.

Conservatives are supposed to conserve, right? When liberal politicians want to spend our grandchildren's money on government programs, we protest. But when conservative politicians want to burn up our grandchildren's energy reserves or cut down their forests, or pollute their water, we go right along with it. I mean, those kids will think of something, right? They're not our problem. There is a callous attitude toward future generations that does not fit with the ideals conservatives are supposed to hold.

The world is changing. Now, I want the Star Trek future as much as anyone. I want to see a hi-tech thriving world, running on clean and renewable energy. I want to see mankind go to the stars. I want us to figure out warp drives or mass effect relays or hyperspace. The thing is, though, I don't really think that's going to happen.

Pessimistic, you ask? I like to think of it as being realistic, something conservative pride themselves on being. Our society runs on oil, gas, and other fossil fuels, and those fuels are going to become less plentiful and more expensive in the years to come. We don't have to reach the point where the planet runs dry; we just have to reach a point where we use more energy extracting these fuels than we gain from their use. I'm still new to this whole peak oil concept, but I think there is something to it.

I mentioned not long ago on Facebook that conservatives tend to think fossil fuels will last forever, while liberals think we will be able to maintain our current lifestyle using clean and renewable energy sources. I think they're both wrong. The future is going to be different, and we will all have to make changes.

So, what will the future look like, and what does this have to do with conservatives and environmentalism? First, the obvious disclaimer that nobody really knows what will happen in the future. Any number of things could happen to change the game, so to speak. That said, the future could prove to be one where our ties to the environment are much closer than they are today, and local communities have more influence on our lives. What happens in DC or on the other side of the world may end up mattering very little.

I see a world where it becomes too costly to ship food great distances, so we all live closer to where it is raised and grown. I see a world where private automobiles are rare, and most people walk to work or use some form of mass transit. I see a world where suburbs and "bedroom communities" either go away or are transformed into fully functioning communities in their own right. I see a world where more of us work in agriculture and less of us work in offices. I see a world where we still have meaningful leisure time, but that time is rarely spent in front of electronic devices.

This is a far cry from the world in which we now live. The American dream, championed by so many alleged conservatives has turned into this: Live in a large, energy-inefficient home, in a suburb where people don't know their neighbors; drive alone in gridlock to a job an hour or more away; work more hours than a medieval peasant; make the same crushing drive again; buy groceries shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away, wrapped in plastic like everything else we buy; keep up with all the television programs, all the sporting events, be intimately aware of the private lives of people you've never met. It's a mess, it really is. And when liberals suggest buying local, taking the bus, slowing down, knowing your neighbors, caring for green and growing things, they are right. When conservatives mock liberals for doing these things, they are mocking what should be their own values.

Do you want your descendants to breathe clean air and drink clean water? Do you want them to be able to walk in the forest on a summer's day, or watch a whale breach along the coast? If yes, then live accordingly, and start now (this goes for me, too, lest my reader think I believe myself superior). In some ways, many conservatives are already more environmentally conscious than their liberal brethren. A family of six in an SUV is more efficient than six individuals in their own Priuses (Priae?). And really, it's hard to find people more conservative than the Amish.

We should all be more like hobbits, to be frank (or Frodo). Living a simple life, together with our friends and family, with good tilled earth, an occasional pint at the Green Dragon, and long walks in the country. I think the future will look more like the Shire than the Starship Enterprise, and while there may be some bumps on the way, it could prove to be a merrier world.