A Response to "Conservatives Conserve": Conservatives Can’t
In the Enquiry’s recent article “Conservatives Conserve,” Federico Alejandro Romero argues that environmentalism and conservatism share common values and are mutually compatible. They also maintain that by dismissing concerns of a climate crisis, conservatives have ignored a potentially useful argument to further their ideology. This article is completely misguided in attempting to reconcile environmentalism and conservatism, and plays into dangerous nativist rhetoric by placing the blame for environmental degradation on immigrants. In their article, Romero serves less to provide reasons why conservatism could support environmentalism, and more about how environmentalism could possibly be co opted by the right to support hard line immigration policies.
One of the author’s main arguments is that immigration into the United States worsens environmental problems for citizens, thereby illustrating how conservative ideology and environmentalism can work together. According to the author, when immigrants move to the United States or similarly rich and “developed” nations, their fossil fuel emissions rise sharply. Because of this, Romero argues, environmentalists should support hardline immigration policies.
These ideas are not new, but rather just the latest in a long history of anti-immigrant zealots scapegoating marginalized populations for environmental problems. In the 19th century, famous environmentalist John Muir complained about the “uncleanliness” of Native Americans. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb prophesied about the Malthusian collapse of society as a result of the demands of an exponentially growing population on food production, reigniting fears about the environmental impact of immigration. As recently as 2004, a group of anti-immigrant ideologues almost won control of the Sierra Club’s board of directors. The problem with these beliefs is that they ignore the root of the problem- how we use our resources. While population growth may exacerbate environmental harms, it does not create them. The problems in our economy that lead to climate change are structural, meaning that the most effective way to mitigate the climate crisis is to focus on them rather than complaining about immigrants. For example, providing adequate public transportation and keeping corporations responsible for their environmental impact are much more useful ways to help the environment without placing the blame on disadvantaged and marginalized groups of people.
Furthermore, Romero’s argument ignores any concept of environmental justice. Mexican farmers are often forced to immigrate to America because of decreased crop yields related to climate change, and as climate change is predominantly caused by fossil fuel emissions in rich, “developed” countries, the United States should have the responsibility to provide for struggling immigrants and refugees. Climate change and immigration are inextricably linked, and by forcing people to stay and suffer in regions ravaged by environmental harms, the United States is committing a grave injustice. Climate change is a global problem, and we should treat it as such.
While not explicitly arguing for eco-fascism, Romero’s argument shares enough similarities with this dangerous ideology that it bears mentioning in this article. Vice describes eco-fascism as an ideology “which blames the demise of the environment on overpopulation, immigration, and over-industrialization,” and which argues for hard borders and fascist leadership as a reaction to climate change. Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer is a proponent of this ideology, with their slogan “Save trees, not refugees.” By focusing on the environmental impacts of racial and ethnic minorities, eco-fascists view their hatred for immigrants within an ecological lens. To be clear, I am not calling the author of this piece a fascist in any sense of the word, but rather showing how their arguments are the same as the ones being used by eco-fascists, thus explaining why they are so dangerous and misguided.
Later in the article, the author argues that conservative values such as “self-restraint” and “love of family” could benefit the environment. This is a confusing argument, as “self-restraint” isn’t a conservative value, and loving one's family is not unique to one ideology over another. Actual conservative ideology and environmentalism are almost diametrically opposed. Proponents of free market economics, low corporate regulations, and unimpeded global trade cannot claim to care about the environment and expect to be taken seriously. Conservative policies like these are responsible for climate change, as unrestrained corporate greed and profiteering has destroyed ecosystems and caused carbon emissions to skyrocket.
The only solution to the climate crisis is to restructure our economy and give people power over their own communities. Strategies like mass investments in green technology and public transportation infrastructure, the better regulation of corporate interests, or even placing a price on carbon would greatly reduce our environmental impact. Ideas such as public ownership of industries easily lend themselves to environmental protection, as regular citizens are able to democratically organize, mitigate, and plan for climate change instead of a handful of executives with little interest in anything besides profit being in charge of polluting industries. For any of these strategies to work, however, they must be supported by a robust federal government, something which conservatives necessarily dislike. Conservatives would be the first to criticize any policies that actually value “self restraint” over profits, such as de-growth, or decreasing production and consumption to the point where the economy shrinks rather than grows. It also seems prudent to point out that at no point in their article does Romero use the phrases “fossil fuels,” “climate change,” or even the word “climate,” and instead focuses on concepts easier for conservatives to digest, such as conservation. This is a major oversight for a conservative who claims to care about the environment.
Climate change is an existential threat to our way of life, and the federal government must act swiftly and powerfully to decrease fossil fuel consumption and protect its citizens against natural disasters. It cannot achieve this by placing the blame on immigrants eager for safety, stability, and economic mobility, but rather by placing restrictions on the free market and attacking the root problems in our economy that make consumption so environmentally destructive. Conservatism and environmentalism are irreconcilable.