Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists;
A Conservative Manifesto
by Peter Huber.
Basic Books (New York, New York), 224 pp.,
$15.00 paper, 1999.

The Greening of Conservative America
by John R. E. Bliese.
Westview Press (Boulder, Colorado),
339 pp., $33.00 paper, 2001.

These two books set out to correct the general public perception
that conservatism and environmentalism are at odds. Peter Huber’s
book goes even further. His manifesto argues that modern liberal
environmentalism is fraudulent. It is akin to a totalitarian
ideology that actually harms rather than protects the environment.
John R. E. Bliese’s book is more of an apologia mixed with
policy analysis. He divulges the reason why the Left has been
so successful in framing environmental issues and defining the
terms of debate. It is because conservatives have too often rejected
environmentalism as a liberal fad and sided with industry against
the public will on environmental policy. Bliese begins with conservative
political theory and shows how conservative principles are compatible
with environmental protection. He then spends the remainder of
the book examining various environmental policy issues such as
pollution, global warming, and biodiversity conservation. Current
policy shortcomings are explained, as are ways to improve policies
by applying conservative principles. Both authors see excessive
governmental regulation as a hindrance to good environmental
policy, and both also advocate a larger role for markets.

Peter Huber is more clearly the market ideologue. While he recognizes
the importance of governmental intervention in dealing with large-scale
environmental problems such as industrial pollution and wilderness
protection, he argues that the government has overstepped its
authority by trying to micro-manage the economy and people’s
lives to protect every aspect of the environment. For example,
by setting standards for waste recycling and energy efficiency,
the government is engaged in social engineering that not only
fails to attain environmental goals, but often wastes more energy
and tax dollars in the process. Resources would be better used
to set aside more wilderness, rather than trying to regulate
every aspect of human behavior. He argues that this fixation
on micromanagement is borne out of a general fear of imminent
environmental collapse. Liberals believe that ecological catastrophe
can only be averted by a strong government whose experts alone
can safely steer society to a greener future. To Huber, this
form of environmentalism is built upon the same abstract social
theories that drove Rousseau, Marx and other leftist radicals.
They were so sweeping and idealistic that they could only be
implemented by state force. And, despite their grandiose social
visions, they all failed.

The same is true of modern liberal environmental ideology. It
is based on abstract computer models that are so complex and
produce so many possible scenarios that they cannot be fully
relied upon to make sound environmental policy. This brand of
environmental ideology is what Huber calls “Soft Green.” In
contrast, “Hard Green” is conservative. It relies
on empirical evidence rather than theories. Its main focus is
setting aside wilderness, which is the only scarcity that matters.
All other environmental problems can be successfully dealt with
through markets and advanced technology. Hard Green believes
in using “hard energy”—oil, natural gas, coal
and nuclear—rather than “soft energy” like
solar and wind power. The former is more efficient and impacts
less of the earth’s surface area. Huber also argues that
it is the wealth created by capitalist societies, not poverty
or forced reductions in consumption, that ultimately limits environmental
destruction. The rich support conservation because they can;
the poor do not because they cannot. Huber does not deny that
there are serious environmental problems; but to change the status
quo to try to avert them is foolish because the future cannot
be known. Thus, the conservative proceeds with business as usual,
and lets market forces and new technologies deal with environmental
problems as they emerge.

In his defense of markets and technology, however, Huber seems
to forget that big government was instrumental in developing
modern capitalism. Enormous military spending created Internet,
microwave, and rocket technologies. Governments also seized vast
amounts of private property under the authority of eminent domain
to build the infrastructure upon which modern commerce now thrives.
Curiously, Huber is also an ardent supporter of nuclear power—a
position that seems contrary to conservative principles. First,
this industry will always invite massive governmental regulation
because of its lethal potential. Moreover, the belief in a safe
nuclear future also requires a fantastic faith in the future—that
civilization will continue to be stable and produce the necessary
human skills and technology to support it for at least the half-life
of the waste material! Finally, Huber creates numerous false
dichotomies and straw men to make his attacks. Take, for example,
the division between rich and poor. By painting the lives of
people in non-capitalist societies as nasty, brutish and short,
he makes it appear that only enlightened modern capitalists can
protect nature. But traditional societies provide many examples
of conservation, not through markets and bettertechnology, but
through the exercise of social taboos and individual moral restraint.

Conservatives will appreciate many of Huber’s criticisms
and welcome his market-centered policy suggestions. But, despite
his harsh and often histrionic attack on liberal environmentalism,
the book is really not a “Conservative Manifesto”,
as the subtitle claims. It would better be labeled a “Libertarian
Manifesto.” Huber is a trained engineer and lawyer who
writes for Forbes magazine. His intellectual hero is Adam Smith,
and his favorite environmentalist is T. R. Roosevelt, neither
of whom can be considered authentic conservatives. Moreover,
while he makes a few token references to God and religion at
the end of his book, it is clear he believes that moral restraints
imposed by religious teaching can no more control human appetite
and ambition than can government controls. The market is the
only effective allocator of social “goods” and “bads.” As
such, it is the only social arrangement that can effectively
deal with environmental problems. To Huber, protecting the environment
is not done out of moral responsibility; it is done purely for
aesthetic reasons. Traditional conservatives feel differently.
Religion teaches morality, prudence and reverence. It is what
guides personal behavior and should guide social policy as well.
So, when Huber makes declarations like “consumption itself
has nothing to do with anything,” he is mistaken. With
respect to energy flows in an ecosystem this is true, but from
a human moral standpoint it is not. Excess consumption is called
greed, which is a deadly sin. Similarly, the wanton destruction
of the environment, as Russell Kirk pointed out, is nothing less
than sinful.

John Bliese’s conservatism rejects this fixation on individuals,
markets and technology. Although he uses Frank Meyer’s “fusionist” definition
of conservatism, as a movement comprising both libertarians and
traditionalists, Bliese identifies more with the latter. He draws
upon the writings of Edmund Burke, Richard Weaver, and Russell
Kirk to define the major tenets of this older brand of conservatism.
He also engages in a substantial refutation of the belief that
Judeo-Christian values are antithetical to environmental values
and insists that the religious ideals of piety and prudence are
critical in developing an environmental consciousness. Like libertarians,
traditionalists do prefer market solutions over governmental
ones, but they will also accept governmental authority to protect
the common good, including collective environmental goods like
clean air and water. Bliese also respects the scientific community
and scientific consensus, rather than simply dismissing much
of it as ideology. In the end, his lengthy and well-documented
analysis of various environmental policy issues succeeds in demonstrating
that conservative principles do support environmental policy.
The book is even more significant in that it broadens the average
reader’s understanding of conservatism. It demonstrates
that there is a branch of conservative philosophy that goes beyond,
and is even antithetical to, the fanatical marketculture that
has done a great deal of damage to the environment.

The excesses of the market have also caused serious damage to
human cultures, and it is ironic that traditional conservatives,
who have spent much of their intellectual energy decrying this
destruction, have not yet understood that the destruction of
culture and the destruction of nature are one and the same. When
Nietzsche declared that God is dead, he should have added that
Nature is dead as well. While this is an exaggeration, the point
is that the juggernaut of modernization has clearly made life
difficult for traditional (religious) societies and the natural
world with which they co-exist. In other words, when nature is
destroyed, the intimate human contacts with nature—which
are the foundation of all culture—are also destroyed. The
result is that traditional human societies, which are bound to
specific ecological cycles and places, become distorted, weakened
or die completely. Nature and the cultures that are associated
with them are always subject to change, but they cannot readily
adapt to an urban-industrial milieu that violently and totally
replaces natural cycles with artificial ones. Such “systems” create
tremendous wealth, but in the process obliterate native cultures
and the ecosystems with which they co-exist. More significantly,
this artificial milieu systematically devalues every human activity
that is bound to the cycles of nature—farming, hunting,
fishing, mothering, and all forms of physical labor. To modern
urbanites like Huber, nature is removed from the intimate patterns
of life itself. It is reduced to either an economic resource
or pristine wilderness that serves as an aesthetic or recreative

Unfortunately, neither of these books ever delves deeply into
the cultural aspects of environmental policy and thought, especially
the intimate relationship between environmental destruction and
cultural decline. More importantly, this relationship has never
been fully examined by any of the dominant environmental schools
of thought. In most environmental discourse, nature is defined
in material terms—as ecological systems comprised of air,
water, soil, plants, animals etc. As such, environmental policy
is concerned with maintaining the stability and vitality of these
systems and their various components. But, to traditional conservatives,
nature consists of more than various arrangements of matter.
Nature is also spiritual—it is Creation. And, since human
beings are a part of Creation, the way we live individually and
collectively has both physical and spiritual consequences. Perhaps
the next wave of environmental thinkers will be conservatives
who will examine the environmental question from a perspective
that goes beyond the constructs given by natural science and
stress moral, intellectual, and aesthetic factors. In order for
conservation to be truly conservative, it must seek to protect
our culture as well as the physical environment in which that
culture grows and thrives.

Tobias Lanz teaches political studies
at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.