Environmentalism has all the hallmarks of a left-wing cause: a class of victims (future generations), an enlightened vanguard that fights for them (the eco-warriors), powerful philistines who exploit them (the capitalists), and endless opportunities to express resentment against the successful, the wealthy, and the west.
The style too is leftist: the environmentalist is young, dishevelled, socially disreputable, his mind focused on higher things; the opponent is dull, middle-aged, smartly dressed, and usually American. The cause is designed to recruit the intellectuals, with facts and theories carelessly bandied about, and activism encouraged.
Environmentalism is something you join, and for many young people it has the quasi-redemptive and identity-bestowing character of the twentieth-century revolutions.
However, the cause of the environment is not, in itself, a left-wing cause at all. It is not about “liberating” or empowering the victim, but about safeguarding resources. It is not about “progress” or “equality”, but conservation and equilibrium.
Environmentalists may seem opposed to capitalism, but – if they understood matters correctly – they would be far more opposed to socialism, with its gargantuan, uncorrectable and state-controlled projects, than to the ethos of free enterprise and personal responsibility.
Indeed, environmentalism is the quintessential conservative cause, the most vivid instance in the world as we know it of that partnership between the dead, the living, and the unborn that Burke defended as the conservative archetype.
Its fundamental aim is not to bring about some radical reordering of society. Its attitude to private property is, or ought to be, positive – for it is only private ownership that confers responsibility for the environment, as opposed to the unqualified right to exploit it – a right whose effect we saw in the ruined landscapes and poisoned waterways of the former Soviet empire.
Its cause is local attachment, not global control, and it stands against globalisation in all its forms, not least that advocated by environmentalists on the left, whose aim is to fit us to a worldwide agenda of prohibitions.
True civic responsibility arises from our sense of belonging. Hence there are no coherent environmental policies coming from the left, despite their appropriation of the cause. For the left-wing vision despises the sense of belonging, which relates us not only to people, but also to the places where we reside and the customs that bind us. It involves an intrinsic vector towards settlement.
Through a shared love of our home and its customs, we are called to account, not only to our present companions, but also to past and future people too – to all for whom the place where we reside is not just yours and mine, but ours.
This is why the true environmentalist is also a conservative. For the desire to protect the environment arises spontaneously in people, just as soon as they recognise their accountability to others for what they are and do, and just as soon as they identify some place as “ours”.
The real environmental challenges that Europe is facing today are not only a concern of mine, but also for the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe. This is why I will debate truly pragmatic solutions to Europes environmental policy at the Alliances upcoming Blue-Green Summit II hosted in Brussels on 24 May.
If we are to have a cogent environmental policy it must appeal to the electorates feeling for their home, and that means that it must respect their sentiments of national identity.
It must be part of a humane and inclusive patriotism, which will unite the generations in defence of their ecological inheritance.