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‘Love of Home’ Environmentalism
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‘Love of Home’ Environmentalism

Better climate policy begins with awe for America’s natural heritage.

South Fork Skykomish River below Eagle Falls, Cascade Mountains, Washington. (Photo by: Greg Vaughn /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The late English philosopher Roger Scruton made a case for environmentalism that would leave many modern environmentalists—as well as their critics—scratching their heads. In his 2012 book Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet, he claimed that “conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal.” Scruton argued that the human desire to protect the environment stems not from a hatred of deodorant or fossil fuel executives, but from a feeling of oikophilia, a “love of home” which compels us to conserve the natural contours of the particular place to which we belong. It’s a vision of conservation that is largely absent, but desperately needed, in America today. 

Conservative hostility toward the modern environmental movement is neither surprising nor unjustified. Some environmental advocacy groups celebrate the decline of nuclear power in the U.S. despite the fact that it is our largest and most reliable source of emissions-free energy. Climate activists treat American coal miners as recalcitrants, while ignoring the dozens of new coal plants the Chinese Communist Party builds around the world. The modern environmental movement has earned its reputation for hypocrisy and elitism.

Yet this has led some conservatives to miss the forest for the trees. An attendee at a conservative policy roundtable I participated in last summer quipped, “I consider myself an anti-environmentalist—in fact, I make a point not to recycle.” 

Growing up in Seattle, I never met any “anti-environmentalists.” All Northwesterners recycle; the only question is if you compost. The outdoors is to the Upper Left Coast what football is to the South. We represent our teams—Patagonia, North Face, or Columbia—and we brag about our Sunday exploits: hiking, fishing, or camping. For me, home is standing in the Yakima or Skykomish River with a fly rod in hand. 

In college, I grew frustrated with progressive environmentalism’s inconsistencies and ineffectiveness. Time and again, environmentalists claimed climate change was an urgent threat, but then fought to tear down hydropower dams and refused to work with anyone without a “D” next to their name. At the same time, I was drawn to the coherence and depth of conservative thought. A belief in a lasting moral order, a disposition toward prudent solutions, and a commitment to individual responsibility all clicked. The frequent conservative dismissal of  environmentalism did not. 

Things might be changing. Over the past few years, Republicans in Congress established the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus and Conservative Climate Caucus, which is now the second largest in Congress. President Donald Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, the most significant investment in our public lands in a generation, into law. Thirty-four years after President Ronald Reagan championed the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting substances, Senate Republicans in 2022 played a crucial role in ratifying the Kigali Amendment to limit toxic hydrofluorocarbons. Republicans today are better represented in environmental policy conversations, and more conservative institutions are taking constructive approaches to environmentalism.

Despite these legislative achievements, too many Americans still view “environmentalist” as a political label. Climate change is the single most divisive issue in American politics: 65 percent of Democrats say it should be a top national priority, compared to only 11 percent of Republicans. While thoughtful people can disagree on the severity of climate change and the appropriate policy response, it’s discouraging that such an important issue remains so polarizing. Equally disappointing is that some conservatives, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, still regard climate change as a “scam” and many others continue to shy away from the environment as an issue. 

It’s odd that environmental activists chose the polar bear as the poster animal for climate change. This choice portrays “the environment” as distant, removed from daily concerns. (After all, how many Americans have seen a polar bear in its natural habitat?) Environmentalists of the past took a different approach. At the outset of the conservation movement, Teddy Roosevelt described America’s forests, rivers, and mountains as “the most glorious heritage a people ever received.” John Muir, the “father of the national parks,” declared over a century ago, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” 

Roosevelt and Muir captured the hunger for the simple majesty of nature that so many Americans feel but cannot identify. A distinctly conservative approach to environmentalism can begin by tapping into that same sentiment: by recognizing beauty where it’s most proximate. For me, Puget Sound’s salmon and the black bears that lumber across the Cascade Mountains symbolize what’s at stake. Wildfires, toxic pollution, and climate change threaten these icons of Western Washington, and jeopardize my dream of one day teaching my children to fish on the Skykomish River.

Transforming the environment, our shared inheritance, into yet another battleground of our polarized politics is doomed to fail. Regarding conservation as an essential part of preserving the thousands of unique communities that constitute America, of the places we call home, offers a more promising alternative.

Quill Robinson is a senior advisor for ConservAmerica.