Environmentalism has been a byword on the right for decades; everything about its most commonly proposed policies goes against traditional conservative values such as limited government and individual liberty. All proposed policies come exclusively from the left, but there is a case to be made for a conservative environmentalism. A conservative lense of environmentalism as an important issue does exist, so do market-driven solutions.
Standard solutions for climate change rooted in regulation are doomed to fail. As with economic regulations, environmental regulations limit profit, thereby pushing actors to discover ways around them. A free market approach, however, puts a business’ financial stability on the line, pulling them into the solution naturally. Rather than penalize doing harm, we should incentivize the environment’s protection.
Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, explains in a Washington Post interview how market incentives reduce damage to the environment far better than government regulation. On the issue of conserving fish populations, Adler recalls how “back in the 1970s, we saw command-and-control approaches fail. First regulators adopted limits on catch. When those didn’t work, they limited the type of gear you could use, or the type of boats you could use.”
When all of these regulations failed to yield any actual results, governments began sharing ownership of the total haul with contracted fisheries. As owners, fisheries now had incentives not to over-fish, deplete fish populations, and destabilize the ecosystem. Catch limits did not work, but privatization did.
Before overhauling climate change legislation, a sober-minded understanding of the issue is necessary. When the left speaks about climate change in apocalyptic terms, it hurts the actual case for environmental protection. Any examination of the data shows that, while there is a negative effect on our environment, the level of harm being done is not catastrophic. Extreme policy proposals are therefore based on faulty perceptions of the problem’s severity, doomed to fail by their excesses, and finally, condemned to rejection by policymakers.
Ultimately, climate change should be a concern to conservatives, as evidenced by National Geographic’s article on defense budget debates in 2014 and 2015. In both cases, funding for protecting military bases against rising ocean levels faced opposition from members of the House Republicans. “Both times, the restrictions were nullified by the Senate. It is too early to say whether efforts to bar defense spending on climate change will be tried again.”
The sea level at the flood-prone naval base in Norfolk, Virginia has “risen 14.5 inches in the century since World War I, when the naval station was built.” According to Nat Geo, high tide caused by a full moon could trigger a flood that would cripple the headquarters of the Atlantic fleet.
Rising ocean levels, therefore, present a real threat to national security, an issue of importance to conservatives. However, due to the slow pace of sea-level rise, the threat to American naval bases is not considered urgent. National Geographic says, “Three feet of sea-level rise, a mid-range estimate that could occur by 2100— would threaten 128 coastal bases, valued at $100 billion.” It, therefore, seems like we have plenty of time to fix the issue, but, if we continue to ignore it, and Republicans continue to fight budget allocation to the issue in the future, the cost of fixing this problem could be far greater than $100 billion.
Lastly, Adler points out that rising ocean levels are just as much a personal property issue as they are an environmental one. “Over hundreds of years of common-law tradition, we’ve recognized that flooding a neighbor’s land is a property rights violation.”
Climate change threatens our military, our land, and our budgets. If we cede this realm of legislation to the left, the only solutions ever provided will always stem from big budget funds and regulations. The right can and should have a voice in this issue, so climate change can be addressed in a meaningful and effective manner.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.