Alexander Cazort Zorach (cazort) wrote in ecologists,
Alexander Cazort Zorach

Sustainability: Building a Consensus between Liberals & Conservatives

I wrote a post on another blog (besides my Livejournal) which might be relevant to this community:

Sustainability: Building a Consensus Between Liberals and Conservatives

I think this post is of particular interest to this community because I notice a strong tendency for people in this community to assume that caring about ecology necessarily equates to embracing a "liberal" viewpoint, as defined in the rather narrow context of American politics. I think the issue is more complex than that, and I'm hoping to spark some reflection and critical discussion on this point. The article is oriented both towards liberals and conservatives, calling liberals to listen more, and give conservatives the benefit of the doubt more, and work more to include them...and also calling conservatives to step up to the plate, define and embrace an environmentalism of their own, and not allow liberals to "own" the environmentalist movement.

Let me know what you think, either commenting there or here on this post.
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Wisdom, thank you for writing that. Cooperation between the different parties on the political spectrum seems like the only sensible approach. The difficulty I see is that both sides seem to claim that their opponents are working for other self-interested parties. Liberals blame big business and conservatives blame bureaucracies for being the shadow players.

Always good to hear something that challenges me intellectually, thanks!

I totally agree that the main problem is demonizing and blaming of opponents.

I think the U.S. (and many other countries) could solve their political problems much more easily if people would sit down and actually listen to each other.
Doubt that's happening any time this century in North America.
I'm not an american but from what I understand of american politics, the conservative side of polititcs also stands for capitalism as extreme as it gets. This sits very badly with sustainability, to my understanding, due to its 'weapon of massive consumption' and 'want everything to be mine' basic ideas. I hope it'll work but from where I'm watching you guys it looks mighty hopeless.

As for other countries, in my country (Israel) I know there's a despicable attempt in some illeagal settlements to become green so as to have a trump card against their evacuation. Green wash can be dangerous, at least here.
I think that the allegiance between conservative politics and extreme, unchecked ultra-capitalism is real, but I think it exists more at the political level and less at the grass-roots level. I think it's more a case of businesses manipulating the base of the party, and ideologues writing policy statements in think-tanks which then get picked up and implemented as policy. (Example: the Project for the New American Century and its influence on the Bush administration.)

But even if you look at those advocating extreme capitalism, there are a number of specific stances they take which would actually promote sustainability. That's exactly why I chose an example from the American Enterprise Institute in my post.


I also think that a majority of individuals who form the base of the Republican party actually do not support unchecked capitalism.

An example would be here in Delaware. The northern 3rd or less of the state, and the beach areas, which are where the big population centers are, is dominantly Democratic and in general, much wealthier. The rest of the state is extremely rural and consists of isolated rural areas and numerous old, small towns. There's a huge cultural difference between these two parts of the state. I've met a number of very conservative people from the rural areas, and almost all of them express a strong anti-development sentiment, being frustrated with the increased suburbanization. They equate the more developed, suburbanized northern Delaware, home to all the big corporations, with their liberal political opponents.

I find it interesting that here in this tiny global corporate safe-haven, the self-identified liberals are the ones who seem to be benefiting more from global capitalism than those in the rural areas. And I think the people in the rural areas are aware of this. It's just that so far, the political arena has not changed to reflect these part because people have been focused on hot-button issues like abortion and gay rights. It makes me wonder if there's a degree to which big business interests work to keep conservatives focused on these issues as a distraction, knowing that they are likely going to be ongoing issues that never get resolved or don't get resolved for a long time, and distract conservatives from issues on which there could be a strong consensus between liberals and conservatives.
Hmm, seems like the more cut off from nature the less you know how important sustainability is and the more off from people in various places the easier it is to judge (as in the case of some liberal ecologists, as you said) when looking at the Delaware example.

How easil can these think-tanks be uprooted, do you think?
(Returning to the discussion after a long break)

I think these think-tanks could be uprooted fairly easily, actually...there just needs to be a competing voice. There are different ways this could happen. It could happen if more liberals reached out to these conservative, rural voters--went out and listened to them and got a sense of the issues they cared about, finding ways to connect with them. It also might happen if liberals would be more critical of the spending-based and regulatory-based approaches that alienate libertarian-leaning conservatives (who are heavily represented in rural areas).

I also think though that it could come from a conservative perspective too...conservatives coming out in support of a strong environmentalist perspective. This is already happening...the Christian Coalition made an about face on its stance on global warming and has now adopted a strongly environmentalist stance.

The key is...wherever you are on the political perspective, to not pigeonhole the "other side". Liberals too often dismiss conservatives as just not caring...but that's ridiculous. We all care. And no one likes being pigeonholed. I think that when we start respecting each other, the labels break down and all sorts of interesting viewpoints come out. And this is ultimately what breaks the lock-hold of fanatical think-tanks. These sort of extreme viewpoints can only persist when there's a group of people who are cut off from society so that their views become more and more extreme...when everyone is engaged in a healthy debate and respects each other, the differences will be more nuanced and the debate will ultimately lead towards better solutions.
I hadn't heard about that with the settlements though...that's disturbing.
Not as disturbing as how they're infiltrating into higher and higher levels of the IDF as decision-makers and into combat units and when they get killed they make a big media fuss about how they're the only ones who serve properly (nonsense, though there's a lot of hedonism amungst high socio-economic levels that keep kids from mandatory service) and pose themselves as heroes.

Eh, didn't mean to lecture, that was pure venting. My apologies.
i think your Amish example is a good one of how a truly conservative culture embraces conservation. another example is the movement among some churches to practice "creation care." however i don't know the extent to which these examples cover most conservatives. while many hunters do have a land ethic, they aren't necessarily totally in tune with all of the processes and pathways, such as revealed in parts of Wyoming and Idaho, where wolves have reestablished populations. studies i've read about fish populations and fisheries are in serious decline, but good friends of mine who fish regularly think that there is nothing wrong with the fish populations where they fish. it's possible of course that the populations are stable for where they fish, for the decade or so that they've fished out there, but does their small window into the Gulf's fishes really capture the larger ecosystem? it seems often that fishers and hunters view their game animals as a right, but the other factors that affect game are some kind of interference.

i don't think that conservatives necessarily "hate" the environment. however, pro-business or capitalists or whatever you would like to call people who seem to worry most of all about the bottom line, seem to generally break to the conservative side of things. U.S. history is rife with examples of companies large and small run by these people that created pollution problems at many scales.

as you state these people only understand economic incentives to pollute. the regulatory controls that were put in place were a reaction to the pollution. they were not a reaction to the economic activity of the companies, however, since these companies are basically economic entities, any action that affects their activity will seem to be a penalty. the EPA and ESA weren't intended to be punitive measures, they were the best way to address large-scale degradation that was and is still occurring. you identify economic activity as the root cause of pollution. if government responses were supposed to be direct responses to that, they would have closed those businesses or done something to prevent their activities. that would truly be a problem.

i'm not going to pretend i know the history of economics or corporate activity, but i think it's safe to say that most companies since the Industrial Revolution have viewed ecological impacts as a non-issue for them. externality is the word i'm looking for i think. a lot of business types want to keep business this way. worry about making their product and increasing the bottom line, not pay for or manage for the environmental consequences of their endeavors. regulation was how government was able to get companies to realize and address externalities that could no longer be ignored and shouldn't have been the responsibility of the government or other agents.

your call for consensus is definitely worthwhile. i think there is a lot of ground to cover between the two perspectives though. the Oklahoma legislature has realized that while hunters do take advantage of public lands and have paid for their use through stamps and fishing licenses, other groups of naturalists also should be sharing the bill. a law was passed recently that now requires a conservation passport of other users of state preserves. so the economic cost is starting to be spread to other users of "natural" lands.

you might find this organization interesting:

thanks for the interesting post.
True conservatism is not uniformly pro-big-business. It's just that in the U.S., big business interests have decided to "ride" on conservative platforms, and put forth a lot of rhetoric, because it's been easier for them to fit into conservative platforms than liberal ones.


I think you may slightly misunderstand what I'm advocating with the question of economic incentives. I checked out this steady state organization and it actually looks EXACTLY like the sort of solution I envision. Thanks for sharing that...I am going to look more into that particular organization.


Our whole economy is predicated on the notion of continued, exponential growth...communities aren't able to be financially healthy without growth, by the very design of our monetary system. I think this creates an inherently bad set of need to keep expanding to consume more resources (whether natural resources, or monetizing relationships in society that were previously not included in the money system--for example, pastors and priests as marriage counselors become replaced by professional psychiatrists and counselors, parents and family as care-givers become replaced by daycare centers and hired babysitters, etc.).

If our money system were designed so as to not require continual growth and expansion (the way our debt-based currency does), a lot of these incentives would be greatly reduced. Communities could be stable and healthy even when having no growth or even when shrinking somewhat.

Libertarians advocate a return to a gold- or silver-backed currency. I'm not sure I think this is the best option, but I must admit, they have a compelling point. Personally, I think a more fruitful direction to move in is community currency, and currency that is more local in scope and somehow separated from the government (more than the Federal Reserve system is separated from the Federal government). I also think that currency with a demurrage fee can provide a huge boost to sustainability--it provides an incentive to invest in resource-saving behaviors that might not be economically viable (too small a rate of return) in a currency that holds its value well--but are viable in a currency that loses value significantly over time.