Environmentalists and nationalists should not be foes

Sustainability and Environment
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Clement Julhia

With Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Treaty of Paris on climate, the Left is even more than before in a monopoly over the cause of defending Earth’s natural environment. In fact, nationalists and conservatives should wrench away this fight from the left because it is much more compatible with its own values than that of socialism of libertarianism.

The first reason is to do simply with the nature of conservatism. Conservatives are moved mostly by a deep attachment to the country and cultural landscape in which they grew up and this creates the urge to defend it when there is a risk it might disappear. Yet whatever we feel the need to defend exists within the natural world and is always more or less dependent on it and the things about our countries that we want to safeguard also include its natural beauty. Therefore the same zeal to protect one’s cultural world should also naturally lead one to avoid the destruction of our environment.

More pragmatically, there is one thing about our current climate problems that it is important to keep in mind. Today’s environmental crisis is made up of two problems: the increase in temperature and the exhaustion of resources, especially oil. As it happens, those two problems are always connected in that it’s precisely the use of oil that produces a large part of air pollution, and so solving the excessive need we have for oil also serves as the answer to our climate problem. This is why, by the way, even those who don’t believe in climate change should still get on board since the other problem of resource exhaustion is visible and the solution to that is the same as for the climate anyway.

This means environmentalism is essentially a technological problem that requires research into alternative sources of energy that goes far enough as to make it more economical and less volatile than oil. This is where the left is at a contradiction because history shows major advances in technology are usually the result of research in the military, which parties like the Greens typically oppose for ideological reasons, and competition between nation-states. Just take for an example the extraordinary advances that were made by America and Russia in the context of the space race.

Nation-states can act effectively because they answer to peoples who themselves act and think “nationally”, i.e. neither just based on their personal interests nor on global consideration, but in solidarity with their countrymen, no more, no less; global institutions however, are similarly responsible to those actor who, unlike citizens, do think “globally”. Those are essentially multinational corporations who, diverse thought they are, are not known generally for their urging concern for the well-being of the planet, although some energy companies like Total are beginning to invest in greener energies. Initiatives to repel global warming that are not based on national forces are almost doomed to fail for that reason unlike the Paris agreement, which international rather than supranational.

In any case, all of this means nationalists should take a keener interest in this issue because our reliance on oil is not just bad for the planet, it is also a source of political serfdom. When a country is as dependent as Britain is – or the rest of Europe – on a commodity like oil which is produced abroad, its sovereignty is naturally compromised. This would be true of any resource, but oil is both essential to all economic activity and the fact it cannot be produced in Europe (with few exceptions) is not something we can change.

The United States might have the luxury of being close to total autonomy in this regard, but countries like ours can only reverse this situation by switching to sources of energy which are possible to produce domestically, and these are usually non-polluting. Even the French solution of relying on nuclear energy still doesn’t resolve the issue of the availability of uranium, and self-sufficiency in energy is necessary to real political independence.

It is important that environmentalism cease to be a partisan issue because however appealing it is from a progressive point of view, it is even more sensible to defend from a conservative or nationalist perspective, and frankly, there is no point in being right about the way to govern our planet, if there is no planet left. Discussions about our national independence should include the problem of oil dependence as a sign simply of political seriousness.

Clement Julhia

Bow Group International Affairs Research Fellow