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Can conservatives care about the environment?

It might seem strange that conservative political parties and movements often treat the enviroment so poorly and short-sightedly. After all, their religious texts have page after page on the glory of this priceless blue marble and how to care for this planet-sized household with love and attention to detail. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.

The problem is that most the runaway environmental problems, including climate change, were caused by a bug in market capitalism: under–accounted-for (often un–accounted-for) transaction externalities.

It’s the systemic equivalent of a memory leak in programming.

Investors can make money by exploiting those externalities—this is why both buyers and sellers profit from fossil fuel, since it provides “magical” levels of energy for a seemingly-low cost (probably better known as we later generations are suffering as the Earth is on fire).

This is complected with a couple of other flaws in the system that leads to increasing wealth gaps.

Conservatism is founded on sustaining those wealth gaps. It’s ultimately a rich-gets-richer program that uses wedge issues—targeting other groups—in order to keep getting votes. It goes after women, men, jews, gays, muslims, mexicans, black lives, queer folk, and everyone else in order to drum up votes for the rich-gets-richer program.

This is why environmentalism is very difficult to combine with conservatism. Hayek tried, when he advocated for strong environmental regulations in his ur-conservative manifesto “The Road to Serfdom”, but since the economic system he crawled up on his dying hill to defend is founded on exploitation and wealth concentration, and all that money inevitably sways policy, those regulatory protected amounted to nothing more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.

And in places with a FPTP electoral system like the US, there’s an even cleverer trick that conservatism uses. Half of the politicians stick with the original conservative “hound the minorities” plan (a.k.a. “let’s conserve our traditional values—we’ll protect you from those nasty and dangerous weirdos, don’t worry”). The other half instead go with the reverse “we’ll protect you minorities against those crazy conservatives” plan—all the way to the bank, while they keep drilling and burning like there’s no tomorrow and keeping workers under their foot.

And I say “uses” loosely here. It’s not a smokey conspiracy set in place by a unified teleological mind. It’s just the emergent consequences of the perverse incentives created by the systemic flaws in market capitalism (as in supply-demand–driven quid-pro-quo transactions in a world based on ownership and investment).

A lot of the solutions from the left are pretty bad at accounting for externalities, too. A can of gas doesn’t wreck the planet any less if it’s labeled “The People’s Gasoline”. We need new economics and we need it yesterday.

All that said, they could certainly fake environmentalism.