A newly-elected Democratic city councilman from Staunton, Virginia, concludes that his environmentalism stems from conservative values, rather than progressive ones:
For my part, I think that many of the innovations of the fossil-fuel era may ultimately bring more danger than benefit, whether it’s personal cars, coal-fired electricity or the whole chemical industry. This view is making me pretty conservative. Indeed, I’ve gotten so conservative that I can’t help from applying Pollan’s rule to nearly any story in the news:
- GMO foods? Guilty until proven safe to eat and safe to grow for today and future generations.
- Political campaign Super PACs? Guilty until proven not to corrupt our democracy.
- Hydrofracking for natural gas? Guilty until proven not to contaminate water supplies.
This approach basically turns upside down the usual American love of novelty. For the real conservative, what’s New is probably not Improved. As Edmund Burke, one of the founders of conservatism, said: “A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”
If your first reaction to any kind of new whiz-bang technology is “Gee, that sounds cool!” then you’re certainly no conservative. Smart phones? Gene therapy? Robots on the battlefield, on an assembly line or vacuuming your living room? For the real conservative, they’re all suspect from the outset.
Now, most of the people I respect and admire who are fighting climate change, re-localizing their economies and standing up for conservation and clean energy, wouldn’t want to call themselves conservative. They seem to prefer “progressive,” which sounds like the opposite of conservative. … But these days, is progressive really such a good way to talk about people who really just want to save what we already have or bring back what we used to have?
I’m not sure how I feel about applying the Pollan Test–the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma advised against eating anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize–to public policy, nor do I think that’s a reliable litmus test of whether something’s conservative or not, but he’s got some interesting ideas here that go beyond Luddite-ism.
That’s not to say he’s right on the merits. Banning GMO foods would cause starvation, banning fracking would be a wild overreaction, and Super PACs are one of the least objectionable aspects of campaign finance. It does strike me as a characteristic assemblage of regional grievances though; the Shenandoah looks South and West, down its nose, into coal country, animating resistance to fossil fuel mining. Only recently a swing state, Virginia was deluged in political advertising this cycle both from campaigns and outside groups.
As for the GMOs, Staunton is about a half hour up the road from Joel Salatin’s farm. Salatin should be familiar to TAC readers, he was featured on the cover last year and profiled by Lewis McCrary in 2009.