The Mid-Atlantic Blog

December 09, 2005

A Conservative Environment Policy?

Following the progress of policy development on environmental and ecological issues may well be a good way of tracking the general progress of modernisation of the Conservative Party overall.

Why?

There are a number of ways that this could play out
  1. Adopting the old Kyoto style of approach. This has failed pretty comprehensively, by anyone's standards. The underlying logic and parts of the science appear flawed and the ability to get agreement globally seems unlikely, in particular from the countries that are most likely to be the rapidly growing polluters. Most important, there is an underlying protectionist, anti-capitalist approach behind many of the organisations involved. Without buying their ethos we'll never get their approval... and a Conservative Party that went that far would have trouble keeping their core votes. Or many others, for that matter. It's the simple approach to the issue though: easy headlines, lots of hoo-hah, a bit of Bush-bashing to take pressure off the more important issue of support for the war in Iraq. Adopting this approach would be a sign of the new regime being all mouth and no trousers: Blair Part II.
  2. Concentrate on "Lifestyle" environmentalism. Rather like older versions of Tory environmentalism: picking up rubbish in parks, and so on. Not terribly effective, and no brownie points from anyone. No upside, and lots of downside, in that we miss an opportunity. This approach, by contrast with the first, would be a sign of total failure of imagination: Major Part II.
  3. Change the argument. The Copenhagen Consensus is a good example of attempting to triage, and address, major problems we face, while applying sensible economic and political tactics. It takes on the issues raised by the environmental movement, but uses an approach that appears more coherent, and will reach parts of the electorate that wouldn't be reached otherwise.

Taking the third of these three approaches would have many benefits, both for the Party and for all of us. After all, the key issue that is raised by this area of policy is hard to disagree with: we'd better be careful about how we treat the environment. Without dealing with the language and process tools of the current environmentalist lobby, however, and without replacing some of the current consensus with serious (but very genuine) economic and cost / benefit approaches, we'll find it hard both to get answers that fit with Conservative principles, and to be seen as credible in addressing the issues. We don't need to adopt the conclusions from Copenhagen entirely. We do need to learn from the approach. And doing so might help engage a much wider range of the public in the argument.

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