Green Old Party: What would a conservative environmentalist agenda look like?

Conservation and conservatism are not opposites, although the present day Republican Party has made them so-

Slate Magazine says that to come back the Republicans have to green up, and it spells out how.

I especially like the section of the article “Don’t cap, don’t trade—tax.:

Taxes on pollution and the depletion of non-renewable resources could be used to dramatically change the way business and personal decisions are made and yet not expand government regulations or increase the government’s share of the revenue pie, IF these new revenues go to replacing existing taxes.





  1. David Avatar

    As a conservative, I’d like to comment on a few points:

    1) The GOP can no longer be considered “conservative”, given the extensive increases to government during the last two terms. That said…
    2) There is absolutely some truth in this article! I’ve been saying it for some time… End subsidies for agriculture and livestock. This is probably the single greatest step towards the “buffalo commons”, IMHO. It will take careful execution to ensure support of our citizens who now farm marginal lands with the help of subsidies, but it would precipitate the exodus from many prairie communities.
    3) It is NOT dependent on acknowledgement of Global Warming. Rather, one must only accede that the current abuses are unsustainable and that we will lose something of great value if we do not change our ways.
    4) I do not believe that higher taxation is necessary to make major gains. The money saved on subsidies alone could provide a major boost to the park system.

  2. Barb Avatar

    I agree completely David. “Conservatives” seem only interested in moral agendas these days…. they don’t care about fiscal responsibility any more than anyone else. “Moral issues” are not government’s job anyway, the way I see it. Government collects taxes and makes laws for the common good — of all — humans and other creatures who inhabit this country.

  3. TimothyB Avatar

    Being a conservative I can agree to disagree with Barb and Dave. To Dave and Barb…An 8 year term from President Bush had one big world changing event that altered his plans drastically. To say conservatives are not conservative any more is very short sighted not unlike a person who wants to save for a house, boat, college, retirement or such like. Then he loses his/her job. Does said person continue saving at the expense of eating, rent or job hunting? No, said person changes plans and starts saving (being fiscally conservative) when the circumstances dictate.

    To Barb…Almost every law we have is based on our morality and dare I say on a left leaning blog…The 10 Commandments. As far as “making laws for the good of all”. Try to make a law that takes into account “the good of all”. What’s good to you morally could be immoral to me. When someone figures out how to make everyone happy, 100% of the time then I will vote for them to be King of he United States. Until such time, I will just go on with life knowing people are different and want different things. It’s what makes this world so interesting….don’t you think?

    What would a conservative environmentalist agenda look like to me? An agenda that slowly puts us on the road to protecting what should be protected. Basically it will be a “compromise” agenda that sides more on the conservation side of the mountain but allows for growth of industry and business on the backside of the mountain also. Or we could just draw a line in the sand and have a winner take all attitude where one group wins and the other group loses but then the old “common good of all” theory flies out the mountain cabin window.

    IMHO, the Slate article written by Christopher Beam reads like a Utopian novel. Good ideas all of them but highly unlikely many of the suggestions will ever come to fruition. I like reality and sometimes journalists Christopher Beam) become so wrapped up in their own ideological they cannot see the forest thought the trees.

  4. jburnham Avatar

    I’d love to see conservatives embrace a conservation agenda, but this just sounds like re-branding to me. No doubt they’ll embrace the language of conservation (“Healthy Forests”), but will the policies actually change?

    The Republican party won’t be able to go from “drill baby drill” to “conserve” at least until the younger generation takes the reins. Many Republicans are openly hostile to anything that might be labeled “green”.

  5. JB Avatar

    I agree with jburnham. Fiscal conservatism has become so intertwined with the moral agenda of the religious zealots that it will be nearly impossible to pull them apart. Similarly, the blatantly anti-environmental stance of many conservatives (especially in the West) is not likely to change over the next three years (when the 2008 campaign begins). Rather, we will see them shy away from using polarizing rhetoric on issues likely to alienate independents.

    TimothyB said: “Almost every law we have is based on our morality and dare I say on a left leaning blog…The 10 Commandments.”

    Hogwash! Show me the connection between traffic violations and the 10 commandments? How about tax code? Show me how the endangered species act is related to the 10 commandments? Sorry Timothy, this is an absolutely indefensible statement.

    I would agree that many of our laws have moral origins, but the vast majority are simply rules established to help ensure society functions smoothly–they are pragmatic, not dogmatic. Laws with religious origins are problematic for the very reason you’ve pointed out: “What’s good to you morally could be immoral to me.” Exactly! And that is why we should focus on legislation that takes a practical approach to addressing social problems and not attempt to legislate morality, as the conservatives have done since they made their unholy alliance.

  6. JB Avatar

    Correction: I meant to say: “…when the 2012 campaign begins.’

  7. David Avatar

    JB, and Jburnham….

    As one of the “younger generation” and a religious individual, I can tell you that the prospect is not as far-fetched as it seems. There are many like me. We have forums, blogs, chatrooms. It may take a few years until we have the money/clout to accomplish anything in government, but the path is being laid.

    Again, I reiterate… The GOP is no longer a conservative party. They are in bed with business, they are in bed with natural resources. And they appear to have lost the integrity that “religious zealots” have respected. (I’ll gloss over this comment which I consider bigotry, this is not a religious forum, nor will I comment on the origins of laws, as this is neither a forum for political philosophy.)

    Timothy: There are many reasons Bush took the country down the path he did, many of which we will never know. I do not, as some do, hate Bush. However, his policies, whatever their reasons, can not be defined as “conservative”. He has expanded government, promoted fiscal irresponsibility, and propped up the industries now suffering for it.

    There is nothing anti-conservative in the promotion of environmentalist agendas, only anti-business. Our forefathers died to give us a government with integrity, and it’s time we ALL stood up for their cause, conservative and liberal alike! Kick lobbies and business out of Washington for a start. Pass the single line-item veto so we can stop pork-barrel spending and focus our congress on the issues at hand. They would not have stood for this, and neither should we! Whatever your moral fabric, graft is generally considered unacceptable.

    When the core function of our government is restored, with none of the back scratches and pocket lining, conservation of our environment can return to the status it deserves: NON-PARTISAN! My two cents.

  8. David Avatar

    It may take decades, it may take a new party, heck, it might even take a revolution, but I believe we can get there.

  9. JB Avatar


    Good luck to you and your allies. I for one would welcome a conservative party focused on sound fiscal policy, that also saw the importance of conserving our nations resources.

    Regarding your assertion that my use of the phrase “religious zealots” is bigotry…

    Bigotry – “(n) stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.”

    Zealot – “(n) 1. a person who shows zeal. 2. an excessively zealous person; fanatic.”

    When any group attempts to codify its religious beliefs as law, they demonstrate “complete intolerance of any…belief…that differs from [their] own.” “Zealot” in fact, is the perfect word to describe such people (though “bigot” appears to work as well).

    I have no problem with any religion or its disciples, so long as their beliefs do not infringe upon my rights. To imply that I am a bigot for expressing contempt for those who would force their beliefs upon me is ridiculous.

  10. David Avatar

    My sincere apologies, JB. Perhaps I misconstrued your meaning. I did not intend to offend you, as I am sure you did not intend to offend me.

  11. JB Avatar

    No worries, David. It is very easy to misinterpret the tone and intent of such short written posts–especially when the topic itself is so emotionally charged. I met no offense; just expressing my frustration at our government’s seeming inability to keep church and state separate (for the well-being of people of all religions). 🙂

  12. jburnham Avatar

    thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Two points: For all the damage Bush did to the Republican party, I think there is plenty of blame to go around for the party’s move away from conservatism. Republicans of all stripes supported him and his policies for 8 years. The concern for conservative principles was non-existent until the Republicans took a big loss in congress.

    You also said “There is nothing anti-conservative in the promotion of environmentalist agendas, only anti-business.”
    I agree with the first part, but not the second.
    There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect businesses and individuals to operate in an environmentally responsible manner. Politics is about deciding what priorities are important. Many conservationists believe that protecting the environment is more important than protecting the profits of business, but that’s a far cry from being ‘anti-business’.

  13. vickif Avatar

    Well, I agree with you to a large degree. However, we cannot expect anything from business that is not demanded by it’s customers or the law. It is rare when businesses operate outside of the minimum requirements in order to profitt. Now if they are legally required to, yes, we can expect it. If consumers say go green or get lost, yes we can expect it.
    Recent changes into more eco-friendly operations by businesses have come about at the beckoning of consumers, or as a direct result of revenues going to greener competitors. It was demanded of them if they were to survive.
    The smarter businessman(or woman) was the one who anticipated that people would find value in being greener, and then began marketing orange oil cleaning products and green cleaners, etc., and hybrid vehicles. (Being eco-friendly is a reslut of a few influential trend setters and a whole lot of followers….face it, Hollywood sells, and we have them to thank for much of what is happeneing today. Just as we had them to thank for anorexia, homosexuality being seen on t.v. and AIDS being a desease people stopped fearing and now try to treat.)

    Now many folks would say thinking the environment is more important than a business’ bottom line is anti-business, but those folks would be business men(women) who would be directly effected by the environmental movement.

    I agree that it would be nice to expect people and businesses to be environmentally responsible, but that expectation may be unreasonable, or atleast premature. Why should they? It is often less expensive not to, less profitable not to, and rarely if ever considered required. In this country, we often have folks who take a minimalistic approach…they want to expend the least amount of time, money and effort, and they want their demands met now, cheaply and with no inconvenience to them.

    People want change, but lets not forget that most of them want that change because it is self motivated…not because it is what will make the world a better place. Americans are spoiled and live in an inflated ideal of what a good standard of living is…which is why we are in the financial outhouse we are in now.

    Bush may have enabled people to be bad, but he in no way forced them to be unethical, immoral, or selfish. He may have handed us a shovel, but we all dug our own crap hole to crawl into. We can blame him for his injustices, but we need to own up to having all played a part in what has happened.

    We could all have sent an extra five bucks to the WWF, or DOW, or any number of environmental causes….but we grabbed a latte or a movie instead. We had countless elections where we could have put better people into office. We could have banged on every door in a fifty mile radius to convince people to vote for greener politicians…but most people didn’t. So Bush was an idiot, Cheney was a scammer, but we are all a part of it.

    As far as there being nothing anti-conservative about the promotion of environmental agendas…well, there are when you read between the lines…conservatives support the full on capitalistic agenda. They don’t want to regulate business, which is what you have to do to require greener standards for them. Being eco-oriented would often require you to place value on land that cannot be measured in the crude it produced, or the ore you could mine, so you would forfeit the money you could have otherwise capitalized on. It also requires a line of thinking that supports the idea that a society has a right to, and a responsibility to, maintain and protect a system which outweighs the right of a business…like national parks, and public lands, even if it costs jobs or big dollars. Being a conservative of old would require a stead fast hold on the ideals that “God granted man dominion over the earth, and all it’s animals” so man should kill off whatever he felt was a nuisance. Conserving the environment causes one to have to alter the conservative Bible literal interpretation of that.

    But the conservatives of old are still the politicians of today. They are just as capable of a metamorphasis if it is in their own best interest. If the environmental movement pushes on, and businesses begin to capitalize on in, you will see more and more republicans hoppin’ on the band wagon. They will be toting that while democrats were in control, it was their plan all along to slow drilling, lessen dependence by altering energy use, increase jobs and industry by opening solar panel assembley lines in closed down auto plants, promote cleaner public lands so more people will travel in country and spend tourist dollars here, slow global warming, clean the air because it is better for asthmatics, they will all be saying save the animals and sell t-shirts, eat free ranging bison and chickens because you won’t have premature menopause due to the chemicals, and we wanted to have the auto industry fully converted to alternative or hybrid technologies too, even though it put my campaign contributing oil baron best friend out of a job. When they finally figure out that being green doesn’t mean being broke…they will certainly change their tune and claim that was their agenda all along. But that doesn’t just make them conservatives…it makes them politicians.

    We need a new party, “The People’s Party”, who represent the values of the main stream and fight for what is right even when it is not poplar or profitable.

  14. jburnham Avatar

    Thanks vickief,
    When I said there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect businesses to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, I wasn’t suggesting it would happen without regulation or pressure from consumers. Only that pushing an environmentalist agenda is not intrinsically anti-business even if it is more expensive or difficult.

    We could certainly benefit from a new party or two. Unfortunately, we’re probably stuck with a two party system either way.

  15. TimothyB Avatar

    JB…you said “Hogwash! Show me the connection between traffic violations and the 10 commandments? How about tax code? Show me how the endangered species act is related to the 10 commandments? Sorry Timothy, this is an absolutely indefensible statement.”

    You’re right. Only few of our laws are a derivative of the The 10 Commandments. And I guess you are right that very few of our laws are based on morals either. My Hogwash stands very loudly corrected.

    But in defense of my indefensible statement, if everyone lived by the spirit of the 10 Commandments, we would be much better group of people.

    On a brighter note, no matter how much I wanted the McCain/Palin ticket to win this election, this evil Republican will fully support our new President and show him the respect his position deserves and is entitled to from day one until his last day on earth. Hopefully our environment and world will be better off with President Obama in charge.

  16. vickif Avatar

    Jburnham, Absolutely!!! And sadly, we probably are stuck with two parties. But then, politics are changing, and people’s views are expanding, so who knows. We can only hope.Timothy,I am not a church goer, but I would agree, if people atleast honored those 10 rules, we’d get along a heck of a lot better.I think that the constitution was tempered by our founding fathers’ view of what was “right”. Though it may not have been Biblicial in it’s exactness, it is certainly derived from it’s conceivers’ morality, as you cannot seperate a person’s ideals from their actions. Fortunately, it was also designed to be altered, and to allow for changing times.Had the constitution not had anything to do with “morality” it would not have mention of God, or blessings.However, the defining factor is that the constitution was written by men, and as humans, no two of them did think exaclty alike, and as morally righteous as they believed themselvs to be-they were still motivated by self perceveirance (which is not always compatible with those ten commandments).  
    The law will always be tempered by the morality of it’s originators. Morality is always based in personal belief, wether you are agnostic, athiest , buddhist or catholic…you have an individual ideaolgy of right and wrong…some are just far more okay doing what others see as wrong.

    The Bible is in sum, a story of selfless sacrafice, one after another. Perhaps, some politicians should take that lesson a bit more seriously, and give a bit more to the entirety of our nation and the world, and less to their contributors. Republican or not, the Bible never forbade anyone to go green, right?

    I don’t see republicans as evil..and admire your support of our nation’s leader. I simply think that their are some key things that liberal people, and conservative people, disagree on. I don;t think the environemnt needs to be one of those key things. I will fully expect you to hold our president accountable if you think he is making great errors. I would hope we all do.

  17. David Avatar

    Many comments:

    JB, I’m very glad we can continue to discuss with mutual respect and civility. It’s what makes a site like this of great value.

    Jburnham: as I said, I do not hate bush. I don’t even hate the republicans. As TimothyB says, I “will fully support our new President and show him the respect his position deserves.” I am a HUGE believer in unity between parties. Civil disagreement is what makes the nation work. That said, I agree that the the blame for the last 8 years is shared evenly within the Republican party. I am now staunchly independent, and if I was a more influential character would launch a new party (sounds like Vicky would be an ally) tomorrow.

    By anti-business I meant in perception-only. Of course technology is necessary. No one wants to get rid of computers, but they are environmentally a nightmare industry. We need to find a happy medium. We need to accept less profit in the interest of not living in a wasteland in the future. Some construe this as anti-business. I think we all agree that sustainable practices are not anti-business, just anti-greedy-business.

    Vickif: I think your view of conservatives is fairly common in this country today. But I strongly disagree. From a political philosophy standpoint, conservatives believe in MINIMUM government. That means capitalism because it believes that the government shouldn’t meddle with business. We have the opposite. As for conservation, if we discuss what the minimum requirements of government should be, protecting our environment should be the first on the list. Why? Because as Robert Hoskins pointed out in a previous post on bison, and his article in the New West on Aldo Leopold, private conservation is nearly always tied to the kickbacks. See it here:

    Drilling and mining are NOT conservative views. They are part of the cloak the Republicans have chosen to wear. The BLM lease auctions going on right now prove that this is far bigger than a political philosophy of how we handle our natural resources. This is kickbacks for buddies, as you point out!

    I also strongly disagree that the biblical account needs to be interpreted differently for Christians to support conservation of the environment. As you point out, in the Biblical account, God appointed man to be the STEWARDS over his creation. If anything, I would say it takes a big leap to say that means man should kill the animals that are a nuisance. Christians should be the first to step up to the responsibility of conservation, because according to the Bible, man has been given that job!

    Yes, there are many things conservatives and liberals disagree on. And yes, whatever the moral foundations of this country, our Constitution is written by man. It’s a contractural society (see also: John Locke). It only works when the constituents agree to voluntarily enter into that contract. Politics in this country needs a serious revolution. People need to civilly debate the ROLE of government rather than galvanizing over a few emotional issues. It turns my stomach that environmentalism has become a weapon used for political advancement. The Republican party has only themself to blame for allowing that to happen. And I am one conservative who who can’t accept that. Yup, time for a new party. And here’s hoping in Obama… large government with integrity is better than small government that is corrupt… for now.

  18. David Avatar

    (That last bit was meant to read that I am happy to accept larger government for now, if they pursue that role with integrity… but that one day I hope conservatives will rediscover their core values and resume a healthy role in our government.)

  19. Rob Sisson Avatar

    Please visit Republicans for Environmental Protection’s website at We’ve been working for 14 years to restore the GOP’s great conservation ethic. Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind and Ronald Reagan’s guiding light, said, “Nothing is more conservative than conservation.” We’ve allowed a few talking-heads to redefine what it means to be a conservative.

    Conservation must be bi-partisan and non-partisan. Please share with any Republican who argues otherwise.
    Rob Sisson

  20. vickif Avatar

    I would be an ally.

    I don’t think the biblical account needs to be interpretted differently ( I actually don’t think it has a place in governemnt at all-but alas, that will never happen…as men who believe in God, our politicians will always be influenced by that belief-so would we all be.). I think that people should not use the Bible as an excuse to do bad things period. The Bible was not , IMHO, meant to be used as a tool to manipulate the environment= people who do that are just plain wrong. But it is done…too bad. What I meant was, religeon is always interpretted differently by various people…no two people agree one hundred percent on anything, let alone biblical interpretations. So we can infer a lot of various moral/religeous implications to the constitution, because people with varied views on morality and religeon wrote it.

    You are right that CURRENT conservatives do use mining and drilling as a cloak, and that is too bad.

    I think there is room for environmentalism in either party. We just have to get both parties to realize what priorities they need to have in common.

    I said that biblically man was granted dominion, and some men think that makes them justified at being search and destroy experts…they use that as an excuse to destroy things. Democrats do destructive things too, they just use a different justifications than republicans-they site the Bible less often. I don’t believe being a christian makes you an anti-eco person…contrarily I have seen churches move to make the environment a priority (including the Catholic church).

    There is a common perception that conservatives are more religeously motivated. Democrats, under that same perception, are more accepting of the right of other’s to believe differently from themselves. That is a big gap we need to bridge.

    Just a heads up, I am an American Independant, I have voted for republicans, and democrats…now I just hope to vote for the right person, regardless of party. This year democrats just seemed more green, and republicans already in office have caused a ripple effect of environmental distruction…so dems were more in line with my priorities and beliefs.

    I do think that Obama has proven a virtual unknown can win…now we just need to push for a middle ground party. Maybe under the strategies Obama used, we could get a person elected who wasn’t a member of the “bi-partisan” grouping. It could happen, times are certainly changing.

    It would turn my stomache to have environmentalism used as a weapon, but right now, I am too busy being excited that it was finally a major part of an election, and not just a forty second mouth service given to pacify a small group of people. It is finally becoming the big deal it should be. I just hope it stays that way.

    I really enjoyed reading your post, and I like where you are coming from. I hope to hear from you more. Thanks for taking time to respond. (I think we might have a lot of common views…it’s nice to see another middle of the road folk here.)


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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