Environmentalism: The Quintessential Conservative Cause | Silvio Magino
Over the past few weeks, a single topic has dominated the German media and has made its way into the international media: The removal of climate activists from
the village of Lützerath, which they have occupied to stop the mining of lignite there.
Activists had already demonstrated in 2020 against the resettlement of the village for the Garzweiler open pit mine and subsequently occupied the village. Beginning on January 11,more than 1,000 police officers went on the offensive and began driving the activists out of the village, resulting in large-scale unrest that lasted for nearly a full week. The locality has not been cleared to this day, in part because activists have tunneled themselves into the ground and barricaded themselves in tree houses. After police officers were pelted with stones and even Molotov cocktails, the reaction of politicians on the right has been concentrated on these acts. Of course, this is not surprising, but none of these politicians have really been critical of the issue of relocation and demolition of villages, their community and history itself. It seems that only those on the left ever stand up for environmental protection and, in this case, for saving the village as well as, indirectly, its history (even though this is probably not a motivation for them). But the fact remains; environmental protection should also be something important for conservatives. I intend to examine here the relationship between the two elements that i have discussed.
Parts of the small village, first mentioned in the annals of history in the 12th century,
belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Duissern for many centuries. After more than 900 years, the village, like many villages before it, must now make way for the Garzweiler open pit mine and its owner RWE AG. As a result, monuments such as the Duisserner Hof, which is on the list of heritage monuments due to its historical and cultural significance, has to be demolished.
A similar fate befell the village of Immerath in 2018, when the neo-Romanesque St.
Lambertus Church was demolished. As art historian Annette Jansen-Winkeln noted before
the demolition, it was quite dramatic that the church was partially destroyed during World
War II and the community then had to invest heavily in rebuilding it, only to have it
demolished for the expansion of the open-pit lignite mine. The congregation had invested in large ornamental windows during the reconstruction period, which she was able to save from demolition.The diocese of Aachen had sold the church to RWE AG "with the proviso that the [windows] be treated in the same way as the wall." 1
The St. Lambertus Church was a symbol of identity from the very beginning, according to the art historian. In 1886, the village's "approximately one thousand inhabitants decided to build this new church. For such a small community to produce such great things - there musthave been a lot of social competence."
This situation should cause an unpleasant emotion in every conservative. What is being
destroyed in these cases is the active life of a village, its community, and its history, all
things that should be central to the conservative view of society. Not only that, but it is being
done for a purpose that is detrimental to the environment, that is, contrary to a cause that
conservatives should champion: Environmentalism.
Roger Scruton captured this sentiment perfectly when he famously wrote:
“We must make the environment, the countryside, and the settled communities of our
nation into priorities of government. Conservatism is a philosophy of inheritance and
stewardship; it does not squander resources but conserves and enhances them.
Environmental politics therefore needs to be rescued from the phony expertise of the
scare-mongers and from the top-down manipulation of the activists. Properly
understood, environmental protection is not a left-wing but a conservative cause.” 2
Now, as Scruton correctly points out, environmentalism is seen as a core issue of the left
political spectrum. Climate change organisations like Greenpeace and social movements like Fridays for Future have uniformly adopted a progressive stance on sociocultural issues,
making it almost impossible to support them as a conservative. The reason that the issue of
environmentalism has found particular appeal on the left is because of the way they frame
the fundamental nature of the problem. The movement, according to Scruton, has
"acquired all the hall-marks of a left-wing cause: a class of victims (future
generations), an enlightened vanguard who fights for them (the eco-warriors),
powerful philistines who exploit them (the capitalists), and endless opportunities to
express resentment against the successful, the wealthy and the West." 3
Meanwhile, for a long time, little to no real engagement with the issue was made in
conservative circles, thus surrendering an issue to political rivals that is now key to due
electoral decision-making. In the 2021 German federal election, the environment and climate played the second-largest role for voters in their election decision. 4 The Christian DemocraticUnion of Germany’s (CDU) internal election report shows that almost one million voters switched from them to the Green Party. For the Greens, 82% of voters named theenvironment and climate as the most important issue for their election decision 5 . It stands to reason that for many of those who switched their votes, the lack of climate policy
competence on the part of the CDU was at the forefront of their minds.
Far from being a foreshadowing of the years to come, this situation offers an ideal
opportunity for conservative politicians and movements to reflect on the principles of
conservatism. Environmentalism should be an issue that conservative politicians ought to
make an important part of their election platforms if they want to win. It is not the case that
this is to be done for opportunistic reasons. In fact, for Roger Scruton, environmentalism
represents "the quintessential conservative cause". 6
Fundamental to this view is the conservative attitude toward society best captured by
Edmund Burke, who speaks of society as a social contract, but “not only between those who
are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be
born.” 7 The preservation (and amelioration) of nature and the Countryside is considered a
duty for those who are aware that they have received everything from previous generations
and must conserve it for future generations. As the great American poet and farmer Wendell
Berry puts it: “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our
most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our
only hope.” (p.46, Art of the Commonplace)
This awareness gives rise to a natural preference for the local over the distant. Which
manifests itself best in Roger Scruton's notion of oikophilia: “[T]he love of the oikos, which
means not only the home but the people contained in it, and the surrounding settlements
that endow that home with lasting contours and an enduring smile.” (p. 227, Green
Philosophy) American legal scholar Robert P. George aptly summarised this position when
he stated "that one naturally and rightly has a special love for, and duties toward, members of one’s family, tradition of faith, local community and region, and fellow citizens.” 8
This love for the familial and social environment, traditions and nature is naturally linked to a sense of identity. We recognise the need for a "We" that cherishes traditions and evokes a
sense of home, a place that is "Ours". This notion of oikophilia is thereby something that is
animated only because we are located in such a place. There exists a deep connection with
environmentalism, since this notion has a great impact on the way we treat the environment. It is simply a fact that man tries to protect what belongs to him more than what is not his own. Now, with the environment, man receives a communal inheritance from which responsibility for the inheritance arises.
Accordingly, it is also a profoundly intergenerational view, consistent with the Burkean social contract, for thus one is not master of the land but a tenant who is but one person in a long line of tenants who are all equally entitled to receive that inheritance. One might object that this means that you may not change anything about the environment or use its natural resources, but therein I would say with Theodore Roosevelt, “I recognise the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognise the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us." (1910 speech on “New Nationalism”)
With all that said, it does seem that a brief consideration of policy implications is needed.
From the view of conservative environmentalism that has been presented, there are
attitudes that conservatives should have toward economic and technological policies and
It seems that conservatives in this case must be completely opposed to an unregulated free
market, not conservative in the first place, and regulations regarding the extraction of natural resources should be supported. In this, again, it may be said with Roosevelt, “I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolised for the benefit of the few, and here again is another case in which I am accused of taking a revolutionary attitude.” (1910 speech on “New Nationalism) What seems obvious to me is that a rethinking of ecological issues should also include a rethinking of economic issues.
Conservatives should also stand up for domestic producers, discouraging them from taking production overseas, and oppose the globalisation of industries, if possible. Restricting the import of certain products might also be worth considering, instead supporting local farmers and passing laws that encourage people to buy locally, which saves a lot of shipment mileage, automatically helping the environment and strengthening the local economy.
It also seems as if many conservative movements ought to change their language on the
subject of environmental protection. Often excessive opposition within conservative circles
creates the feeling that you can't be conservative if you are pro-environment or you feel that
you have to deny climate change to be conservative, which is wrong. It is necessary to
emphasise more often that environmental protection is not only about climate change, but
also about the degradation of natural resources and the preservation of the beauty of our
However, the most important thing remains something that politics cannot do and must come from the citizens themselves: Taking personal responsibility, which comes from rational self-interest that encourages the people to look after the environment themselves. The key for this is for people to realise that we are inheritors of this world and like a good farmer we have to cultivate this land and pass it on better to our inheritors.
All writings reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the views of CYOE.