Climate policies for conservatives
In the 1970s and 1980s, conservatives were prominent in climate and environmental issues. Now, this political domain is dominated by the left. How did this happen and what policies aiming to mitigate global warming would align with conservative values? We ask Olle Torpman, philosopher at IFFS and project leader for Conservative Climate Justice for Sustainable Transformation at the Institute for Futures Studies.
WHAT IS THE CONSERVATIVE PERSPECTIVE ON CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES?
- All ideologies come with values and principles that determine the goals of societal development and what can be done to achieve them. This also imposes demands on climate and environmental measures, where different ideologies may prefer different solutions due to distinct core values. Conservatism as an ideology advocates for measures that proceed cautiously and can preserve values such as traditions, communities, history, naturalness, prosperity, and national self-determination. However, there are differing opinions within conservatism about whether it is primarily human values that should be preserved or if natural values should also be preserved—such as natural areas, forests, species, biological diversity, and so forth.
WHAT CONSERVATIVE VALUES SUPPORT AN ACTIVE CLIMATE POLICY?
- Conservatism has significant potential in these issues because its fundamental principle is about preservation and comes embedded with a stewardship concept: It tells us to preserve what is good, what is natural, and what has a long history. Since nature is inherently natural and has been with us all along, and much of climate and environmental work is about preservation, there is potentially strong support in conservatism for these issues.
HOW DO LIBERALS VIEW THE CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE?
- Liberalism comes with a principle of freedom, asserting that environmental and climate measures—or other measures for that matter—can only be allowed if they respect individual freedom. That being said, it's not surprising that many early environmental and climate measures were opposed from a liberal standpoint, as they were seen to violate this freedom. However, this is not a clear-cut liberal stance. Firstly, the freedom principle requires that we do not infringe on others' freedoms. Since significant emissions lead to such infringements, it demands restrictions on permissible emission levels. Secondly, the same principle allows us to do what is necessary to prevent unjust infringements on freedom. The more convincing evidence that our emissions cause such infringements, the easier it becomes for liberals to take action against them.
LIBERALS ARE OFTEN CRITICAL OF CLIMATE POLICIES THAT HINDER GROWTH—WHY IS THAT?
- There are several reasons. One is that there is an idea within liberalism that solutions to problems should come from individuals themselves, through innovations, rather than through state regulations or bans. Growth can also be seen as both a precondition for and a sign of individuals flourishing freely. With less growth, fewer freedoms are offered, and by providing people with freedoms, they tend to contribute to growth.
WHY HAS THE CLIMATE ISSUE BECOME ASSOCIATED WITH THE LEFT?
- The measures recommended for the sake of the climate, by environmental organizations or the scientific community, have often meant a disregard for conservative values—such as traditions, caution, communities, self-determination, etc. They have involved changing our dietary habits, lifestyles, ways of travel, delegating decisions to the EU—and that it should happen quickly. Just as right-wing parties have profiled themselves on certain issues, left-wing parties have been the ones to profile themselves more in environmental matters. This also means that environmental proposals often come from the left.
WHY DO CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS OPPOSE PROPOSALS THAT COME FROM THE LEFT?
- When the left proposes an environmental measure, it is natural for identity-political reasons to be against it, but I also think it can be natural to be against it because the left tends to build proposals based on its values that do not take into account the values within conservatism and liberalism.
SO, WHAT WOULD A CONSERVATIVE CLIMATE POLICY LOOK LIKE?
- A conservative climate and environmental policy require, or consist of, setting the framework based on a diversity of values embraced by conservatism. Since the values and principles of conservatism are more multifaceted than those of other ideologies, there is a risk that these may conflict with each other. It is not impossible to handle such conflicts, but it may pose a slightly more challenging task for conservatives than others. I believe socialist-oriented parties—or green ones for that matter—have much to gain by shaping their climate and environmental proposals in a way that does not contradict conservative and liberal values. If they succeed in doing so, they can be more widely accepted—in both parliament and society at large.