Why does someone change from being an “ecoradical” to a conservative environmentalist?DanDaggetShades2

Because it works better.

I had no problem with the ecoradical label when I was fighting strip mines in Ohio in 1973 and, for me, leftist politics was the only politics. In the early ‘80s when a friend told me someone named Dave Foreman was going to found an environmental group named Earth First! that would be so far to the left it would push the entire debate in that direction, I reacted with sign-me-up enthusiasm.

However, as I became older and gained my own base of experience on which to base my point of view, I became aware that the left-lean of conventional environmental politics was neither good for the environment nor for environmentalism. Now, I believe it is time to free the movement I have been a part of for 30+ years from its exclusive connection to the left.
The main reason for this change of mind and heart is I’ve become convinced the private-sector really is more effective than government at producing just about anything, including healthy ecosystems. I came to this conclusion for the usual reasons-the failure the Soviet Experiment, Euro-socialism and a mountain of other public-sector flops. More important, however, was the fact that, in thirty years of activism, the most impressive environmental successes I have encountered were achieved by private individuals operating according to principles that make up the conservative playbook. In each of those cases individual initiative, personal accountability, the free market, and rewards for results were more effective healing damaged ecosystems, at saving endangered species, even combating global warming (if you believe in such a thing.) than the government alternative — regulation and protection.

These successes even got me to thinking that the reason environmental problems seem so hard to solve may be because the leftist methods we use to deal with them are so ineffective.

And isn’t Nature a conservative? After all, she rewards success not compliance.

Put all of this together, and it adds up to a significant question: Why have environmentalists chose the leftist approach, which is a confirmed loser and unnatural to boot, over an approach based on conservative principles that is proven to be more effective?

The answer came when I took my list of conservative success stories to my environmental peers.

I knew how most environmentalists feel about everything conservative, so, when I told them what I had discovered, I wasn’t surprised that they were defensive. What did surprise me was their total lack of interest in how people they normally think of as adversaries had succeeded in dealing with problems that had stymied them for decades.

After a few years of this, I was the one who finally got the message. I concluded that many of those who call themselves environmentalists are more interested in installing leftist prescriptions than in achieving success on the ground. For them, environmental issues are a means to achieve liberal political ends rather than the other way around. In fact, that’s how many environmentalists measure success—in the number of acres brought under government control, in laws passed, in regulations created, and in the election of politicians committed to increasing all of the above. My environmental listeners weren’t interested in the successes I described to them because those successes didn’t further leftist agendas.

That realization convinced of the need for a conservative alternative to liberal environmentalism. Liberals deal with problems by applying policies—income redistribution, affirmative action, universal health-care. Conservatives, on the other hand, work to create a situation in which people can use their creativity and initiative to produce a product for which there is a demand and, therefore, a reward. An environmentalism based on conservative principles would determine success and dispense rewards for achieving results — environmental results, not for applying policies.

That would change the face of the environmental debate entirely. Among other things, it would expand the number of people involved in environmental issues in a proactive way. It would do so by giving people on the right, many of whom are as concerned about environmental problems as liberals, an environmental strategy to support that did not require them to sign on to something they oppose—increased regulation and bigger government. It would also provide them with an alternative to what currently passes for a conservative environmentalism—discounting environmental problems so it can be claimed that increased regulation is unnecessary.

Creating an environmentalism that is truly conservative would provide all of us a means to set goals in terms of environmental criteria—healthier habitat, more functional watersheds, and refersing desertification. And it would provide an effective way to reward those who were able to achieve those goals. Doing so would add a degree of competition, accountability, diversity, and effectiveness to our efforts to deal with environmental problems that, at present, is sorely lacking.

About Dan Dagget

I’m an environmentalist, and I’m a conservative. I didn’t start out that way, in fact I started out as an environmental activist, a fairly radical one. I was involved in some of the earliest actions of Earth First, was designated one of the top 100 grass roots activists by the Sierra Club, and helped put together ad hoc groups in Ohio and Arizona directed at specific issues—controlling coal surface mining in Ohio and protecting mountain lions in Arizona. I changed my “environmental politics” because I came to believe that mainstream environmentalists—the great majority of whom are liberals—are more interested in expanding the role of government than in fixing what’s wrong with the environment. Or in sustaining or enhancing what’s right. And because liberals operate by, within, and through the government to control an ever greater portion of our lives—where we get our health care, what kind of cars and food we can buy, how we dispose of our trash, raise our children, etc.—any increase in government power is an increase in their power. Liberals, in other words, measure success, environmental and otherwise, in terms of their ability to control more of the environment (and therefore of us) via government regulation. Conservatism is the home of the free market, of rewarding people for producing outcomes, not applying policies. What does that have to do with the environment? I know a rancher who has managed the habitat on his ranch to such a state of health that it hosts one of the largest known populations of an endangered bird (a flycatcher). An adjacent preserve of similar habitat hosts none. Leftist environmentalists have lobbied to remove the flycatcher habitat from the rancher’s management and increase the size of the preserve. A conservative environmentalism would reward the rancher for his success and empower him to increase the number of flycatchers even more. Does the conservative approach bring problems? Of course it does, but so does the liberal approach—just ask those flycatchers. If you’re interested in producing results rather than regulations, you’ve come to the right place.
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