Friday, July 21, 2017

The Modern Conservative Moral System & 'Environmentalism'

The conservative moral system includes a number of ideas that work against environmentalism and against dealing with global warming. 

  • First, there is the idea that man is above nature in a moral hierarchy, that nature is there (put there by God) purely for human use and exploitation. There are other interpretations of the Judeo-Christian Bible (such as the stewardship metaphor promoted by former Vice President Al Gore); however, the resilience of the former inhibits changes in practices and beliefs about global warming. 
  • Second, there is the Let-the-Market-Decide ideology, in which the market is both natural and moral*it’s the Decider, who rewards market discipline and punishes lack of it; there should be no authority higher than that of the market. Hence no regulations, low or no taxes, no workers’ protections or unions, no tort cases. Thus, environmental regulation and government subsidies for sustainable energy, green technology, and green jobs are seen as government interference in the market, and hence immoral. But as the recent world economic collapse has clearly shown, markets require regulation to function effectively and in the public interest. The anti-tax crusade in California has similarly led to the bankruptcy of the state and widespread disasters for the public good. 
  • Third, conservatives tend to think more in terms of direct rather than systemic causation. But phenomena like global warming work by systemic, not direct causation. 
  • Fourth, present-day market fundamentalism assumes that greed is good. It supports the view that market principles should govern our conflicts between environmentalism and economics. One such principle is cost benefit analysis (CBA). The basic math of CBA uses subtraction: the benefits minus the costs summed over time indefinitely. Now those ‘‘benefits’’ and ‘‘costs’’ are seen in monetary terms, as if all values involving the future of the earth were monetary. CBA is just the wrong paradigm for thinking about global warming, however. For example, as any economist knows, future money is worth less than present money. How much less? The equation has a factor that tells you how much: e (2.781828 . . .) to the power minus-d times t, where t is time and d is the discount rate. Now e to a negative power gets very small very fast. Just how fast depends on the exact discount rate (that is, interest rate), but any reasonable one is a disaster. The equation says that, in a fairly short time, any monetary benefits compared to costs will tend to zero. That says there are no long-term benefits to saving the earth!
  • Fifth, aligned with CBA is the Equivalent Value Metaphor. To find out the monetary value of the environment in a particular case, think in terms of the ‘‘services’’ that the environment in this case provides to human beings. Then compute what it would cost private enterprise to provide the equivalent services. That is the value of the ‘‘environmental service.’’ If a developer is willing to pay that amount or more, development should proceed. In cases of development versus conservation, compute the profits from development that would be ‘‘lost’’ to the developer under conservation, and consider that the value of the conservation. That is the money to be paid to the developer if conservation is chosen. In both, the natural environment, which lasts indefinitely, is destroyed and sacrificed to short-term profit.
  • Sixth, conservative populism views liberalism negatively, especially through the frame of the Liberal Elite: the tax-and-spend, sushi-eating, latte-drinking, Birkenstock-wearing, do-gooder, know-it-all liberals! This view tends to make conservative populists doubt and reject the science behind reports that establish the existence of and impact of global warming. 
Together, these six points lead to much of the moral outrage expressed by conservatives in the face of progressive environmental and global warming legislation. 

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