Conservatives and the Environment


Cal Thomas, a well-known columnist wrote about climate change in a recent column. He doesn’t believe the climate is changing, or that, if it were, human activities have anything to do with it. One reader of the local paper caught him lying about that.
He cited one source as saying the Earth hasn’t warmed in eighteen years. The source in fact said that the earth had been warming steadily in that time. The other two sources Thomas cited were run by like-minded conservatives, so we can probably assume they had no more interest in being impartial than he did. Conservatives dislike the whole idea, and like to dismiss it as a way liberals (and presumably a majority of scientists) have devised conspiratorially to dictate to everyone.
Why did Mr. Thomas get so emotionally involved as to lie? Why does anyone? We all have biases. But one reason might be that one’s complicity in an ongoing catastrophe may be hard to acknowledge, especially if your political faith is partly defined in denying it.
Whether or not you believe human activity is causing climate change (I’ve always thought it plausible), what should be apparent is that humans spread pollution all over the world, destroying many plant and animal species. Elephants, rhinos, and lions are merely some of the most visible.
It should also be clear that destroying plant life, especially deforestation, is detrimental to the ability of plants to change carbon dioxide into oxygen, which is more urgent when we pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly. That’s just one of the more obvious ways we destroy the environment we depend on for life ourselves. It’s an example of liberty become licence, in the name of profit.
Profiteering is one of the things conservatives accuse liberals of in connection to climate science. Is that really likely? Profits from clean energy are mostly potential at this point, while profits from the fossil fuel industry are well-established, so the profit motive is much more likely to be projection on the part of conservatives. It’s the fossil fuel industry that has for years been casting doubt on climate science. They want all our eggs in their basket, even though their basket is poisonous. Is propaganda to stop a new industry the way the free market is really supposed to work? Conservatives in this country are wedded to the idea of the free market, but it isn’t an unmixed blessing.
A good example of negative capitalism is illegal drug trafficking. This is capitalism without regulation, and we see how it operates. Torturing and killing are standard.
Are they capitalism unmasked? One would hate to think so, but there’s no doubt they are capitalists. They produce and deliver a product for which there’s a demand, and they’re ruthless in accomplishing that.
Is that essentially different from oil and coal companies hiring scientists to cast doubt on climate science? What they’re doing is a lot less overt than beheadings, kidnappings and murders, but is on a more massive scale, and arguably more damaging.
It’s interesting how bitter Thomas and other conservative commentators get on the subject of human activity causing climate change. They really want the whole world to agree with them, and may be bitter in part not just because of the disagreement, but because a sizable portion of the world considers them immoral.
They aren’t immoral just for their beliefs, nor are they they only ones who are immoral. Living in this country it’s very difficult not to be complicit in the massive pollution that interferes with the natural processes that keep all of us alive. Think of all the products we manufacture that don’t biodegrade. Probably millions of tons each year that leave piles of eternal trash littering the world. The one thing you can say in favor of this trash is that it’s convenient.
I contribute my share of trash too. When I give patients medications I use plastic med cups and plastic cups, and throw them away after one use. When I started working in a hospital almost fifty years ago it was somewhat different. A lot of the equipment was metal, and we sterilized it in an autoclave for repeated use. Now bedpans, urinals, and wash basins are all plastic. IV fluid containers used to be glass, now they’re plastic. IV tubing and oxygen tubing is all plastic. So are the lancets with which we stick the fingers of diabetics to check their blood sugars. Syringes are mostly plastic, and are only used once. The facility where I work generates a lot of plastic trash every day, and then you can multiply it by many other nursing homes in this area, two hospitals in the city where I live, and others nearby, plus doctor’s offices. That’s only one region, and includes only the medical industry. Consider how many other things are made largely of plastics, including computers, phones, CDs, DVDs, toys, etc. All these things are attractive, but are bad for the environment, since they don’t biodegrade. And I don’t see us trying to find alternatives to any of these things.
That means we still aren’t serious about the problem. My meditation teacher said that pollution would continue while people called each other names about it. The name-calling hasn’t stopped, and the pollution continues.
Our country can be great when we truly face our challenges. Right now most of us aren’t willing, and Cal Thomas lying about what our problems really are doesn’t help matters.


5 thoughts on “Conservatives and the Environment

  1. I was in the trucking business my whole career and once a truck of mine was stolen from its spot in line to unload at the Jacob Javits Conv Ctr. I never thought we’d see it again, but it was abandoned after causing serious problems surrounding the fact that the exhibit on it was trashed after missing the show.

    The back of it was filled with medical waste. The NYC police said it wasn’t uncommon. They said it was so difficult to dispose of medical waste that doctors’ offices or hospitals would give it to anyone who had a low price for taking it, without checking any credentials. We thought they’d never bothered trying to dispose of it – when they thought they had all they could accumulate on the truck and had been paid cash for taking it, they just left the truck on the street.

    • I don’t doubt it. I’m told that there’s now a way to recycle plastics, but haven’t looked into it enough to know how much it gets used. Not very much, is my guess, and a friend said they don’t even try to recycle straws, which we use all the time. I don’t hear many people talking about that kind of problem. It’s all just climate change, and whether you believe in it or not.

  2. Julian Scala

    Allen –

    I think the conservative hostility to the idea of climate change has two primary sources.

    First, it was clear fifty years ago, or from about the time Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring,” that either capitalism or the environment would have to go: the town wasn’t big enough for both of them. That is, you couldn’t sustain an economic system predicated on endless growth in a finite world. But you could destroy that world before the contradiction caught up with you. The capitalistic imagination soars. It abhors limits. Capitalism is a romantic doctrine, as well as an infantile and narcissistic one . Modern conservatism exalts the individual at the expense of the community, and in particular the individual who scorns all limits and restraints and proves it by making a lot of money.
    For conservatives, accordingly, defense of capitalism against its enemies is the very essence of conservatism, and no enemy is more inimical or dangerous than someone who tells you that there are, in fact, limits. A person of that kind is denying your very right to boundless self-aggrandizement; he’s assailing your very self. Of course, very few conservatives actually get to aggrandize themselves to any great extent; it’s the principle of the thing. It’s also possible to aggrandize oneself vicariously; that is, for a poor conservative to lose himself in admiration for a rich capitalist, and to uphold — with violence, if necessary — the right of the rich to be rich without limit. This capacity for abjection was, I think, one basis for the peculiar fact that hundreds of thousands of poor Southerners died to uphold slavery. More recently, it’s one basis for the adulation directed at Donald Trump, who explicitly insults his followers in order to encourage their loyalty to him. In all cases of this kind, there’s a parallel to the self-abasement characteristic of some forms of ecstatic religion. The people who blow themselves up for the purposes of jihad and the people who admire Trump would probably find that they had a lot in common, if they had a chance to chat.

    Conservatives also dislike environmentalism and reject the idea of climate change because they dislike the people who promote these things. Conservative media shills say to their audiences, in effect, “These people — these college professors and liberal politicians — think they know more
    than you do — think they’re better than you. They think they have a right to tell you how to live.” To refuse to believe in climate change induced by human activity is to give the raspberry to the people who think they’re so damn smart. I ran into this in another context recently. I ended up in a brief email exchange with a man who conducts a website devoted to the proposition that the plays supposedly written by William Shakespeare were really written by the Earl of Oxford. This man (like others of the same persuasion) doesn’t simply deny Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays that carry his name; he hates Shakespeare, and he also hates, with a consuming and violent hatred, the pro-Shakespeare professors, who think they’re so smart, and who refuse to take the Oxfordians seriously. When I made it clear that I wasn’t an Oxfordian, he immediately became vehemently abusive — almost unhinged with hatred and rage. I should make it clear that his demeanor wasn’t exceptional: the man largely responsible for the Oxfordian theory and the author of the most prominent book on the subject is equally violent against both Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s supporters — who think they’re so smart. The interesting thing is that the media have taken to treating the Strafordians (as Shakespeare’s champions are called) and the Oxfordians as two sides whose claims are equally respectable. It’s just the same as journalists’ treatment, until quite recently, of the climate-change issue: out of some idiot notion of “objectivity” or “balance,” they encouraged the public to think that denying climate change was just as respectable as affirming it.

    I was very interested in your discussion of plastic medical waste and Cal Nordt’s story about the illegal disposal of medical waste. It reminded me of the abandoned hospital complex on the Lido, an island near Venice, that I’ve visited several times over the past few years. About twelve years ago, the government suddenly withdrew its funding. Everyone went home, leaving everything exactly as it was — medical specimens, apparatus (x-ray machines, dialysis machines, etc.), medical records, used syringes and other medical waste — everything. A dozen years of vandalism has broken up and scattered these materials; no one has made any effort to remove them.


    • Dear Julian,
      I’m sorry I didn’t notice your comment until now. Certainly the conservative objection to the idea of climate change is in part an anti-intellectual one. Conservatism in this instance seems to have little to do with conservation in the sense of the natural world. And of course conservatism does exalt the individual (though industrial individualism is expressed more in corporations than individuals).
      Maybe you shared my amusement at a writer from the National Review denouncing poor whites for bad behavior because of their poverty, alcoholism, and drug addictions. I imagine (bordering on certainty) that these writers grew up in upper middle class or upper class circumstances and never had to experience real poverty. I’ve never had to either, but I think I’ve been a lot closer than they probably have. There was always a strong feeling at our house that we couldn’t throw money around, though we never went hungry or without anything important. I think an awful lot of conservatives simply have no idea that some people can’t get enough to eat, clothes to wear, or places to live. And want to punish people who can’t. No wonder a lot of people are voting for Trump, who overtly condones the racism Republicans have been feeding people for almost fifty years, while speaking against the wage stagnation and trade deals they’ve been supporting at the same time. I think it was Chris Hedges who pointed out that the people in the red states who have been voting Republican all this time have really started to realize they’ve been getting screwed. No wonder mainstream Republicans are pissed off.
      I still think Trump would be a disaster for this country, but I think any other Republican would be too, and it’s possible there’s nobody that can prevent disaster. Nobody’s been willing to confront our real problems in any fundamental way for more than forty years. One writer says that Reagan was popular because he was saying we didn’t need to.
      I often make comments on Facebook that I expect to make someone argue with me, but it doesn’t always happen. The most recent such was in response to a post about how desirable it was to defund government to make it smaller. I replied, And then just wait for the totalitarianism that often follows too weak governments. No answer.

      Thanks for your comment,


    • I might add that I think the Oxfordians have a pretty good case, but I don’t know enough to be convinced. I had a similar experience with someone English I met in a chatroom. I was quite surprised at how vehement she got.
      My discussion was supposed to take in plastic waste of all sorts. The medical variety is just the area where I probably contribute most to it. Plastics have become just about universal by now.
      I just got a letter to the local newspaper published in reply to an op-ed about how Southerners feel about the Confederate flag. I pointed out that while the soldiers probably had a variety of personal reasons for fighting, in fact they were fighting for slavery, even though few of them were actual slave owners, and that those who like that flag ought to remember that there are people who have very personal reasons to dislike it, and that they may sometimes lapse into incivility. I doubt my words will have much concrete effect, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s