Opinion: How to get conservatives on environmental issues

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Polls show that conservative Canadians are less likely than progressive Canadians to prioritize environmental issues. This is unfortunate, because climate policies will only succeed if all major voters in the country see them as useful. It’s not that conservatives don’t care; rather, they oppose the way environmental policy is discussed and constructed.

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Left and left progressives dominated the environmental movement and shaped policies based on big centralized government and top-down regulatory principles. They have also inserted other social justice issues into the environmental movement, using terms such as “climate justice” and “environmental racism”. By reflex, the Conservatives will back down from this approach.

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It is possible to engage and encourage conservatives to support action on the environment and climate change by creating policies that respect important conservative values. These values ​​include taking personal responsibility, protecting private property, and encouraging growth through competitive markets. It is entirely possible to create effective environmental and climate policies around these values.

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Personal responsibility includes paying for the pollution one creates. Taxing pollution gives it a price, forcing companies to pay for how much they pollute. The difficult part here is to design a pollution tax that is strictly revenue-neutral and that does not unduly burden those who depend on the use of fossil fuels in their work or where they reside. For example, those who live in rural areas that need trucks or farmers who need to power their equipment should get bigger tax offsets to offset the higher carbon taxes they will pay. The incentive to reduce carbon emissions will still be in place, as the use of more fuel-efficient equipment and vehicles will reduce the carbon tax they pay and result in lower taxes overall.

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Moreover, any tax should only affect companies that pollute. Too often governments use the above excuse to impose a tax but then apply it too broadly and use the tax as an additional source of revenue. In 2008, British Columbia introduced a thoughtful carbon tax. However, in 2017, the NDP government removed its tax neutrality, and it is now another tax that is added to government coffers.

Second, protecting private property includes valuing the environmental benefits that reside on private property. Just as there should be a cost to pollution by those who pollute, there should also be a benefit to private landowners in conserving ecologically important land for public benefit. Consider the habitat of endangered species.

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Unfortunately, regulations for endangered species on private lands can create perverse incentives that increase the risk of extinction. Regulations can be so onerous that landowners have an incentive to prematurely destroy habitats of endangered species on their property, to avoid future punitive regulatory costs. Shawn Regan, an environmental economist, explains the misaligned rules thus: “If I have a rare metal on my property, its value increases, but if a rare bird occupies the land, its value disappears..“By pricing environmental benefits, owners have an incentive to conserve.

Third, the market economy is often blamed for pollution, but this claim is incorrect. In the 1980s, Eastern European countries of the Soviet bloc had neither market economies nor private property rights, but these countries experienced terrible environmental degradation. For example, these countries used on average 75% more energy per dollar of GDP than the United States. And although they only accounted for 12% of European production, Eastern bloc countries contributed more than half of the continent’s particulate air pollution. This is just one of many pollution statistics created by their socialist system.

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Competitive markets can help the environment. Capitalism creates economic growth. And according to the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy on Sustainability, there is a strong positive relationship between economic wealth and environmental stewardship. It’s logic. Those who are wealthier can afford and invest in more sustainable activities.

Market competition also improves the way resources are used. For example, the efficiency of North American sawmills has improved to the point where wood waste fell from 55% in the 1930s to 0.8% in 2012. And the industry continues to innovate by seeking ways to increase the reuse and recycling of wood.

It is possible to develop environmental policies based on conservative values. Too often we look to government for solutions. In return, we get layer after layer of costly regulatory burden. Not only do they diminish our ability to thrive, they are often poorly designed and fail to achieve their environmental goals.

By recognizing that conservative values ​​complement, rather than oppose, environmental stewardship, we will be better placed to engage with conservatives and encourage them to join in a non-partisan effort to protect the environment and fight climate change. Such efforts will not only be more effective but also sustainable in the long run, whether conservatives or progressives are in power.

Jerome Gessaroli teaches at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and is a visiting scholar at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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