Friday, July 24, 2009

And now to answer the actual QUESTION...

Sorry, Anonymous; I got onto my soapbox there. You asked about sustainability and I went on and on about the environmental movement, leaving out several areas you mentioned specifically.

Okay, here's the thing: conservatives do not, in principle, object to paying for necessary services, such as garbage collection and waste management, such as disposal fees for hazardous wastes, such as water and air quality monitoring. They expect that the costs for whatever filtering-style processing a business must do in order to meet reasonable and agreed-on standards will be passed on to them, the consumers. What they (we) take issue with is this type of situation:

"Save the spotted owl!" was an environmental rallying cry in the Pacific Northwest; logging was destroying the birds' habitat, it was claimed. When pressed, however, environmentalists taking up the owls' cause admitted that the owl itself was not so much the issue; it was that old-growth forests were being logged, and the owl was a convenient "face" for the forests. Human beings were going to lose their jobs, the price of wood was going to rise for all buyers, and all under the auspices of "saving" a critter.

Honesty would have been a policy behind which more conservatives could have rallied, if they agreed with the principle that we ought to seek our wood from places other than old growth. (Old growth, by the way, is not a static forest condition; like all conditions on the planet, it's transitory. By geologic standards, it's a flash in the pan.) But the more-regulation playbook seems to require certain tactics:

  • Appeal to the cute: children and animals sell.
  • When possible, use anecdote, not data, to make your point, and search as hard as you have to to find the anecdote that tugs hardest at the heartstrings.
  • When you must use statistics, present those with the most shock value. (Think "global warming" - oops, I mean "anthropogenic climate change" here.) Bury those that don't bear out your point.
  • People have short memories and little capacity for reasoning, take advantage of these facts.
  • Use the Watergate school of journalism to help you: journalists have seen the Promised Land of Changing History, and they want it bad. If you can pitch your story as an opportunity to let a journalist Change History, that journalist will probably go to the mat shouting your point and shouting down opposing ones.

Et cetera. It's not that conservatives "don't care" about sustainability; it's that they, like most humans, do have memories, they do have the ability to reason, and they resent and distrust organizations and people who seem to be trying to make an end run around them.

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