Environmentalism versus Conservation 1

On our Facebook page, Leila Howell Cook writes:

I would like to see someone write a good post on the differences between conservation and environmentalism because I think too many people consider them one and the same and they’re not. I don’t think there is anyone that considers taking care of our natural resources a bad idea. If we want it there for use in the future, especially for our children, then we have to preserve it now. That concept goes back as far as human time, I think. It just makes good sense to take care of what is around us and to try and not misuse it. Environmentalism is a politically driven movement that uses as its facade the concept of conservation but only as a smoke screen for a bigger agenda. To me, providing incentives for companies to adopt practices that don’t pollute is much more positive than limiting commerce. You catch more flies with honey. Educating the public on why they need to be mindful of resources and the positive benefits it provides is much nicer than being shamed into it. Education has always proven to offer the most progress in society – not the government acting as the mean nanny.

As we’re in full agreement with her opinion, and as she asks …

I don’t suppose the Atheist Conservative would want to write one, would you?

… we take up her suggestion.



Conservation is a conservative cause.

But conservation of what exactly?

We speak of conserving what has been achieved by our civilization: ideas and inventions from classical Greece and Rome, from the Enlightenment, from the Industrial Revolution, from our own Age of Science and the Computer and the Internet; and what we hold to be the greatest product of history, the idea of individual liberty under the rule of law realized in the establishment of the United States of America.

But the subject in hand is conservation of the natural environment.

Russ Harding, director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan, wrote an essay in October, 2008, in which he came to the conclusion that conservationists and environmentalists viewed the relationship of human beings and nature so differently, it’s hard to see how they can come to any agreement or act together to look after the environment.

His essay is titled Conservationist or Environmentalist?  Here’s an extract:

The impetus for the conservation and environmental movements may be similar, but the two movements have developed distinctly different value systems, the result of very different world views.

Conservationism, properly understood, employs traditional values of environmental stewardship. A good steward takes care of what has been entrusted to him or her, thereby leaving an inheritance for the next generation. This worldview allows that it is ethical to employ natural resources for the betterment of humankind, as long as they are properly cared for and managed with a concern for future generations.

It is permissible to cut trees, for example, as long as new ones are planted in their place.

Similarly, wildlife and fish can be harvested as long as they are left in sufficient numbers to ensure future populations.

Humanity is seen as an integral part of the ecosystem rather than an intruder in the natural world. 

By contrast, the worldview of many modern-day environmentalists is much different. The mindset of such adherents is pantheistic – in which nature is deified and worshipped while the welfare of humans is prioritized beneath the animal and plant kingdoms and other aspects of the natural world.

According to this worldview, humans exist separate from nature and act immorally when they disturb or disrupt nature. Even the slightest disturbance – such as cutting and replanting trees – represents a violation of nature by humans.

But –

Everything man does impacts the earth.

So let’s try conservationism. Conservationism recognizes that mankind is on the earth and is part of the system. It asks that we think before we slash and burn a rain forest in the Amazon and seeks to find ways of preserving forests and people.

The differing worldviews between conservationists and environmentalists makes agreement on environmental and natural resource public policy all but impossible. …

When clean air, water and land are not as important as protecting the sanctity of nature from human intrusion, agreement on practical solutions to real environmental threats becomes difficult. …

Let us hope that the traditional worldview of the conservationists prevails. A future based on the environmentalist worldview is too bleak to contemplate”

There are environmentalists who believe that the “health” of the planet requires the total elimination of the human race. (See our post Fresh wild raw uninhabited world, January 2, 2012.)

No ideal could be more radical. It is true nihilism. Those who hold it fail to understand that if there are no human beings, if there is no human consciousness, not only is there is no “health” or “sickness”, there is  no “earth”, no “nature”. These are concepts, and (as far as we know) ours is the only conceiving consciousness in the universe. We are the namers and arrangers of our world, the inventors and granters of meaning and value. As well as using and nursing the physical world and other beings that it contains, we endow it for our kind with ideas and creations: language,  knowledge, explorations, music, mathematics, inventions, artifacts, commerce, laws, institutions, philosophies, history, fantasies (including gods), and jokes.

To extreme environmentalists all that counts for nothing. Pfui! Away with it!

For the milder sort, we may exist as a species but in small numbers, disturbing the wild as little as possible, content to be little more than food for beasts or worms.

Environmentalists with their contempt for humanity are devotees of Leftism. They are not sure whether they want to control us in order to foster wild nature, or use the pretext of caring for wild nature in order to control us.

Conservatives are the real conservationists. A good conservative is a good conserver. He practices good stewardship by looking after, in his time, in his turn, the home he inherited and will hand on to the generations coming after him. The Greek word for a Home is Oikia, from which we get our words economy and ecology. Most of us want the house we live in to be pleasantly clean and in reasonable order. We want the greater Oikia wherein we dwell, the natural world that sustains us, to be pleasant too. We want the air we breathe and the water we drink to be fresh, the soil to be fruitful, the climate benign.

It’s enough. It’s good. And our huge planet, largely unpeopled, is not only oblivious to our doctrines and feelings, but also not much altered or long harmed by what we do.