Some Conservative commentators have argued that the vote blue/go green period of David Cameron’s leadership was unconsidered advertising, not built on any foundation of conservative philosophy. But a review of recent conservative writing on green issues suggests otherwise. The writers are building upon the ideals of Burke and the actions of Thatcher. After a period of relative quiet after the 2010 election, we are now seeing a new wave of green conservative thinking, which suggests the environment remains close to the heart of many conservatives. Here’s a roundup of ten the best from 2007 to now:
1. Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, 2007
‘Why beauty matters’
Oliver Letwin, then (and now) the policy master behind the political showmen of the Conservative party, presented a nuanced and uniquely conservative vision when he made the case for why place matters for our sense of well-being, and matters as much to the poor as well as the rich. This is something, he says, that estate agents and fashion houses understand and economically depend on, and, yet, the state has never been able to grasp.
“To live surrounded by what one finds ugly is to live a deprived life. At the extreme, sensory deprivation (living without natural light in a blank cell) is a form of torture that is designed to drive the subject mad. But even much less extreme forms of aesthetic deprivation have enormous effects on psychological and spiritual well-being.”
2. Rt Hon George Osborne MP, 2007
‘Looking after the environment, looking after the economy’
George Osborne recently stated the case for being a “cheap green” when tackling the reality of climate change, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he linked the environment to the economy.
“We understand that tackling climate change won’t be easy – but we also recognise that although the challenge ahead is great, the stakes are even greater. When Theodore Roosevelt said these words one hundred years ago, he captured the challenge facing our generation today. The options are stark: we can promote economic prosperity whilst also acting as responsible stewards of our planet, or we can court economic and environmental ruin. We are committed to meeting this challenge. Future generations will not forgive us if we fail.”
3. Greg Clark MP, 2010
‘The economic case for climate action’
One of the great Conservative environment ministers that never was, in this piece Greg Clark echoes George Osborne on the economic prudence of decarbonisation. However, he also goes a step further by exploring the new economic models made possible by switching the UK from a fuel-cost based national economy to one where the main costs are centred on technology development.
“The cost of fossil fuel powered energy basically depends on the price of its fuel. Renewable energy is different. It is driven by the costs of development. The fuel is free. This cost distinction is all important, because Britain’s ability to influence global commodity prices is severely limited, whereas the capital costs of project development are very much under our control. This transition from a commodity to a capital centric view of energy will give Britain’s finance sector a chance for a fresh start. Investments can now be channelled into the productive capacity of a new, domestically fuelled, energy sector, secured by the certainty of megawatts, rather than the vagaries of the credit markets.”
4. Greg Barker MP, 2013
‘Move over big six, we need the big 60,000’
Greg Barker is a tireless champion of the low carbon economy. Few in politics have done more to extol the benefits of green business as a British asset and export strength. Here he discusses the rise of the Big Six and how he wants to end their dominance through low carbon deployment.
“When the UK electricity sector was privatised in the 1990s, one vast state run monopoly became a teeming market of fourteen new firms, competing for the business of the British consumer…For my money, we ended up with the worst of both worlds. Competition dried up and the sector drifted away from dynamic pluralism to domination by a small number of big companies. By 2010, just six energy firms controlled over 90 per cent of the UK sector”
5. Rory Stewart MP, 2013
‘The market versus the environment’
While most Conservatives have written about the benefits of the market working with the environment, Rory Stewart challenges the idea that the market is even a conservative principle. Returning to Burkean principle, he argues that it was the job of Conservatives to protect the culturally priceless and economically worthless.
“Conservatism… should emphasise the multitude of values that exist in the landscape: including history, archaeology, beauty, past perceptions of that landscape and the continuing life and memories of its inhabitants. It should approach these features as independently valuable: as ends in themselves, not simply as a means towards some larger financial or biological objective.”
6. Michael Liebreich, CEO, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2013
‘Avoiding an energy civil war’
Michael Liebreich believes that decarbonising the economy doesn’t need to be led by the state and that competition is the best answer to a stagnating energy system. He believes low carbon technologies are the best way of bringing about this.
“For the left, being pro-environment and anti-business are one and the same…. Feed-in tariffs are nothing less than state price controls. Renewable energy targets are indistinguishable from Soviet five year plans. Complex planning processes add costs, slow down projects and increase risk. The big mistake of the Roundheads has been to leave unchallenged the assumption that these are the only tools available to drive the transition, instead of coming up with good conservative solutions, ones which have wealth creation, personal responsibility and freedom at their heart.”
7. Michael R Bloomberg, 2014
‘Clean cities mean healthy growth’
Meanwhile, in the US, as New York’s mayor, Liebreich’s boss Michael Bloomberg has led the charge with environmental answers from the right, making New York less polluted, with more green space and more efficient. For the next stage of his career he’s taking his ideas on tour, spreading the message to other cities around the world. This essay is his manifesto.
“I’ve often said that capital follows talent, not the other way around. Clean air, beautiful parks, less traffic congestion, and more transportation options attract talented people and private investment – and that’s reflected in New York’s record-high population and record-high number of private sector jobs.”
8. Laura Sandys MP, Baroness Wheatcroft, David Ruffley MP, Nicola Blackwood MP, Steven Barclay MP, 2014
”Sweating our Assets’ Productivity and Efficiency Across the UK Economy’
Laura Sandys, who convened the group of Conservative MPs behind this initiative, has established herself as a champion of the consumer and is one of the Parliamentarians most aware of the links between rising costs and environmental limits. This publication by Laura and her colleagues is a clear rallying call from the right to update how we measure economic productivity.
“As the global criteria used to assess economic competitiveness becomes more sophisticated, we must start distinguishing between productivity that creates a more resilient macro-economy, and one that merely focuses on productivity in terms of unqualified top-line growth and output per man hours used, regardless of other profit made, margins enhanced and resources used.”
9. Roger Scruton, 2014
‘Free society is the best safeguard of the environment’
It has been the task of philosopher Roger Scruton to properly rage against the perceived limits of the state in protecting the environment. Scruton’s tract rejects the bureaucratic approach to regulating protection and embraces what he calls ‘oikophilia’: the love of home. Even global issues such as climate change are best tackled, Scruton argues, through national technological innovation rather than global treaties.
“Treaties are advanced as the only solution to mega-problems such as climate change. Yet of the big polluters, only the United States would obey an emissions treaty. Doing so would not only cripple its economy but deprive it of the energy needed for scientific research into a new energy source, the discovery of which we are all praying for. The only safety for the world will come when this great advance takes places in America and is made available around the world – to China and India in particular.”
10. HRH The Prince of Wales, 2014
‘Speech to the Young Entrepreneurs awards’
A speech rather than an essay, but few parts of national life have shown themselves more effective during the flooding crisis than the House of Windsor. While politicians pointed at water, the princes filled sandbags. Then the Prince of Wales, a “small-c conservative” inspiration to Michael Gove’s own environmentalism, delivered this speech championing our low carbon innovators and highlighting the importance of the science of climate change.
“It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science. All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.”