How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism
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The environment has long been the undisputed territory of the political Left, which casts international capitalism, consumerism, and the over-exploitation of natural resources as the principle threats to the planet, and sees top-down interventions as the most effective solution.
In How to Think Seriously About the Planet, Roger Scruton rejects this view and offers a fresh approach to tackling the most important political problem of our time. The environmental movement, he contends, is philosophically confused and has unrealistic agendas. Its sights are directed at the largescale events and the confrontation between international politics and multinational business. But Scruton argues that no large-scale environmental project, however well-intentioned, will succeed if it is not rooted in small-scale practical reasoning. Seeing things on a large scale promotes top-down solutions, managed by unaccountable bureaucracies that fail to assess local conditions and are rife with unintended consequences. Scruton argues for the greater efficacy of local initiatives over global schemes, civil association over political activism, and small-scale institutions of friendship over regulatory hyper-vigilance. And he suggests that conservatism is far better suited to solving environmental problems than either liberalism or socialism. Rather than entrusting the environment to unwieldy NGOs and international committees, we must assume personal responsibility and foster local control. People must be empowered to take charge of their environment, to care for it as they would a home, and to involve themselves through the kind of local associations that have been the traditional goal of conservative politics.
Our common future is by no means assured, but as Roger Scruton clearly demonstrates in this important book, there is a path that can ensure the future safety of our planet and our species.
Jamieson, ‘The Ethics of Geo-Engineering’, People and Place, 1.2, 13 May 2009. Jamieson’s views are based in considerations of global justice. Others follow Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace, who describes geo-engineering as ‘outright dangerous’. Jamieson and Parr are right to be concerned about the ethical aspect of meddling with our planet on the scale required; some of the ethical issues are discussed by David R. Morrow et al., ‘Towards Ethical Norms and Institutions for Climate
still a real question whether we could ever achieve this result by zero-risk regulation. Eliminating one risk, you open the way to another: protect drivers with seat belts and you threaten pedestrians. Stop people smoking and they take to bingeing. Protect the farm from pests and you expose it to pesticides. In all such cases top-down solutions have a tendency to confiscate problems from those whose problems they are. Gerald Wilde and John Adams have persuasively argued that rational beings
however, there has been a widespread revival of the Heimat idea, and philosophers like Angelika Krebs and Karen Joisten have made the idea central to the discussion of environmental ethics.252 I earlier referred to an important essay by the judge and novelist Bernhard Schlink, in which he points to the utopian character of the invocation of home in all its ideological or political forms. Precisely because the home lies in the past, a place of unrecoverable safety and protection, the yearning for
apologetic attempt of the Pilgrim Fathers to find acceptance among the Native Americans from whom their descendants were to steal the land, has its roots in the concern with home. Just what it means in practice is something that we can know through history, through works of the imagination, and through our own attempts to live through days ‘bound each to each in natural piety’. We know it too through the evolution of settled communities, in which individuals take a measure of responsibility for a
But oikophobia is also a stage in which some people – intellectuals especially – tend to become arrested. As George Orwell pointed out, intellectuals on the left are especially prone to it, and this has often made them willing agents of foreign powers.257 Nor is oikophobia a specifically English-speaking tendency. When Sartre and Foucault draw their picture of the ‘bourgeois’ mentality, the mentality of the Other in his Otherness, they are describing the ordinary decent Frenchman, and expressing