Tackle climate change by talking conservative

The climate crisis has flooded our news and media for some time; and now it is very literally flooding people’s homes. It is an escalating, existential and self-wrought crisis, whose implications are so large that they are often easier ignored. Most of us assume that we are too little, too few to make any significant change: to get through the day, we put it aside. It is, quite literally, a problem too large for our imagination.

Most solutions from politicians suggest relatively small, piecemeal changes of lifestyle. Mainstream politics is too timid to offer anything else. An often frustrating mechanism for consensus, democracy seems incapable of bringing about the titanic shifts in modes of economic production that increasing numbers agree are necessary if we are to survive as a species. Left-wing thinkers in recent years have seized on this truth, and conservatives have been slow to respond. A shift away from consumer capitalism, and towards a steady-state, cyclical economy is deemed in many circles to be the only route to salvation. And they are right.

Conservatives today, hidebound by the Thatcherite legacy and ideologically blinkered against any rolling back of the market, have obstructed and obfuscated in the face of this growing crisis. They have first denied the threat, and then dishonestly avoided the issue; engaging in a farcical pretence that these issues are secondary to achieving short term economic boosts within the framework of a dying economic model.

Thinkers like Naomi Klein, the radical Canadian writer, have argued passionately and persuasively that what is needed is a wholesale change. You don’t need to be an economist, a geographer or a geologist to agree with this simple truth: in a world of finite resources, infinite economic growth is unfeasible. And as the death toll from climate change grows, it will also come to look morally reprehensible.

What these thinkers miss is that although this shift is sorely needed, it will not be achieved with promoting progressive thinking alone. What mobilised the people of Britain to fight Fascism during the 1940s? And what motivated Clement Atlee’s Labour to build the modern welfare state in the wreckage of post-war Britain? Certainly, it owed something to optimism, call it even a misty-eyed utopian yearning. But more than that, it relied on the strongest mobilising force humanity has ever known: the defence of the familiar.

The only serious way to mobilise millions to change their way of life is by appealing – like it or not – to a kind of small-town conservatism. Right-wing ideology has not always about defending the interests of a rootless and rapacious international elite (although the Tory party as an institution has undeniably always been on the side of privilege); it was once about something purer, and far more modest. The desire to defend and conserve your home, family, local area and way of life against the cruel onward pace of modernity is not nasty, racist or childish.

An Englishman’s home is his castle, and his locality is his spiritual home. The building where your children go to school, your local pub, and the street you live in are threatened by climate change. The society you grow up in – for all its cultural turbulence, it is still an essentially stable and peaceful organism – this too is threatened.

The natural world, although not always conspicuous, forms a large part of our association and understanding of place. Perhaps the pond that you pass by everyday on your way to work, perhaps the oak tree that stood in the corner of the playground where you spent what were, in hindsight, your happiest days. These are worth fighting for. True, a titanic shift is needed; but you need not be a card-carrying leftist to help make it happen.

Image: Tim Hill via Pixabay

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