George Monbiot recently expressed a carefully calibrated environmental message that allows people on the environmental left to feel self-righteous without making any real sacrifice. In a video that was shared widely, including by celebrities such as James Corden, the British writer argues that the only way to help the environment is to change the “big, structural, political economic stuff.” Monbiot concludes that we need to “go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.” At the same time, he dismisses “pathetic, micro-consumerist bollocks which just isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
This is absolution for those who want to feel green but can’t be bothered with going to the effort and expense of actually living their own values. Publicly advocating the “do as I say, not as I do” approach reinforces the reality that conservatives tend to live out the environmental ethic that the Left only preaches.
As a conservative who has worked in environmental policy for two decades, I have been frustrated watching as ideological fellow travelers avoid environmental topics, even as they privately express their commitment to environmental stewardship. As the Left becomes more detached from responsible and effective environmental solutions, conservatives should confidently fill the void.
One reason conservatives do not engage is that environmentalism has become synonymous with horrible government policy. Every Earth Day, we are treated to theatrical images of marches featuring unhinged activists demanding action on a range of environmental issues. Clever hashtags are generated. Alarmist slogans are flaunted. Naked people glue themselves to park benches. And all who disagree with the demands for more government power are denigrated as “deniers.”
The other 364 days of the year, however, people on the left do little in their daily lives to justify all that environmental browbeating. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Cornell University found that those who are “highly concerned” about climate change are “least likely to report individual-level actions” to reduce their environmental impact. Those who considered themselves “skeptical” of climate change “were most likely to report engaging in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors.” To be sure, not all conservatives are skeptical of climate change, but generally, we aren’t nearly as alarmist about climate change or other environmental issues, even when we recognize the risk.