Conservative Conservation:

Taking the High Road

What's New at Hoover
Hoover Institution
January 2006

Can you be a conservative and an environmentalist? How to reconcile the two positions, that some see as conflicted, was the topic of Hoover fellow Terry Anderson's presentation at a Hoover Institution Breakfast Briefing on January 18. Anderson, the John and Jean DeNault Senior Fellow, is executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a think tank focusing on market solutions to environmental problems, and professor of economics at Montana State University.

Anderson challenged stereotypes associated with conservatism that lead people to assume that one cannot be a conservative and an environmentalist. Although conservatives are seen as primarily concerned with human welfare, they are also concerned about the environment, Anderson said. Another stereotype, Anderson said, is that because conservatives are seen as individualistic and opposed to big government, they are seen as believing that people should be able to do whatever they want, regardless of consequences. The last stereotype he dismissed is that of conservatives being sanguine about human ingenuity, which leads them to adopt an attitude of "be happy, don't worry."

"How well are we doing as human beings," Anderson asked, "which means how well are treating the environment and other species?" He believes, like the title of his recent book You Have to Admit It's Getting Better (Hoover Institution Press, 2004), that things are getting better. Although there are hotspots that require attention, he said, there is good news. First, he pointed out, we are not overpopulating the planet as once predicted; in some areas, such as Europe, there is negative growth in population. As a result of advances in agricultural productivity, he said, we aren't starving. We aren't fouling our nest, he said, as new information on pollution levels indicates improvements. Finally, he added, we aren't running out of resources thanks to new incentives. All these developments lead Anderson to be optimistic.

Anderson concluded by outlining what he calls "Terry's Rules of Engagement," which he believes conservatives as environmentalists should be promoting in any discussion of the environment. "You don't wash a rental car," Anderson said; in other words, if you don't own the car, you don't have a stake in the outcome and are less motivated to take care of it, which leads to the first rule: "incentives matter." Next, Anderson said, is that "markets work for the environment." Markets, he argued, provide a way to solve environmental problems; for example, it's in the best interests of fisheries to make sure there isn't overfishing.

His third rule, Anderson said, is that "it's Aldo not Teddy" who should be recognized. Although many people celebrate Theodore Roosevelt for creating the national parks system, Anderson believes it is Aldo Leopold, the promoter of the private landowner who conserves, who should be honored. The fourth rule is that, as Anderson stated earlier, "you have to admit it's getting better." Anderson's final rule, he said, is to "look for new allies" by drawing others into conversations about conservatism and environmentalism.

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Terry Anderson is the William A. Dunn Distinguished Senior Fellow and former President of PERC as well as the John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He believes that market approaches can be both economically sound and environmentally sensitive. His research helped launch the idea of free market...
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