February 5, 2023
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ColumnsElephant in the Room

Conservatives should be for conservation

When talk of climate change occurs, whether on the presidentialdebate stage or at the dinner table, conservatives seem to retreat from the discussion or contest the validity of climate science. In terms of environmental policy, conservatism’s greatest enemy today is not liberalism but ideological inconsistencies among those who call themselves conservative.

The insistence by conservative politicians, radioshow hosts, and cable news talking heads to dogmatically deny climate change is at odds with the very core of conservatism. The conservative movement has a great history of conservation, and it is time that we engage in the discussion to find solutions to the climate problem that affects us all.

Our environmental debate should not be focused on whether climate change is occurring but rather on which ideas are the best to solve our climate crisis. Liberals are quick to point to the failures of free markets. Conservatives are quick to point to the ineffectiveness of government. Unfortunately, however, conservative policymakers have yet to put forward a substantive plan to combat climate change.

Luckily, there are conservatives outside the U.S. who have been developing plans that are beneficial to both the environment and the economy. The British Columbia Liberal Party, which is liberal in the classical free-market sense, put forward a carbon tax while also lowering income and corporate taxes to make the plan revenue neutral. This means less carbon goes into the environment while the people have income to spend in other sectors of the economy.

Before conservatives in the U.S. start putting forward plans like the carbon tax in British Columbia, we must convince all conservatives that protecting the environment is important. Conservation and stewardship can be a winning movement on the political right if communicated correctly. Conservatism is focused almost entirely on the idea of our posterity. Our environmental policies should focus on that as well. Encouraging people to be stewards of nature gives them responsibility in protecting the environment for themselves and for the generations to come. And showing that climate change disproportionately hurts the poor can convince religious conservatives that we have a duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

We need conservative leaders to be passionate about protecting our environment and economy. We have a duty to pass on the blessings of this land, both political rights and natural beauty, to the next generation. And it’s time conservatives realized that.

Kyle Stewart can be reached at kstewart1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @KyleStew107