Frequently, in the press and in politics, environmentalism is linked to the left, perhaps in part due to the climate denial that surfaces in parties like the US Republican Party. Statistically, this link between the left and ecology appears to be the case. A study conducted by Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics found that worldwide, among parties, a “one standard deviation move in political orientation towards the left raises the odds of an individual taking a pro-environmental position by between 13.8% and 35.1%.” Notwithstanding the leftward leanings of most environmentalist groups and parties, conservative greens exist around the world. These rightward leaning greens are divided: between serious parties with the potential to advance environmentalism in diverse constituencies and disingenuous or even dangerous adopters of an ecologist patina. It’s imperative that the non-extremist conservative greens prevail in this battle and grow their ranks.
Whereas left-green parties and some of the overlapping liberal greens discussed in my last article attack neoliberalism and other market-friendly economic models, the conservative greens often operate within market frameworks to propose solutions to economic issues. They usually eschew solutions that involve the massive growth of central government. These market greens also tend to be less socially liberal than left greens or liberal greens. Most don’t fit the “socially liberal fiscally responsible” mold that tends to play well with younger postmaterialist voters. The Latvian Greens, Mexico’s Partido Verde Ecologista, and Germany’s Ökologisch-Demokratische Partei (ÖDP) exemplify socially conservative green parties, although we’ll discover that two are disingenuous more than helpful.
Philosophically Sound Green Conservatism
While it may seem odd at first glance, this fusion makes sense. After all, national conservative scholar Patrick Deneen classifies society and community as an ecosystem much like nature. From this source, the ideas of environmentalism combine smoothly with a conservatism that rejects hardcore libertarianism. Deneen further contends that “liberals have spoken for years of the need for ‘sustainability’ and “environmentalism,’ but in their cosmopolitan and globalist guise have largely excluded human cultures in their defense of ecosystems”. This represents a strong claim for protection of traditional society made by linking both fights in a common challenge to liberalism. Liberalism, as it’s stated by adherents to this conservatism, corrodes both forms of ecosystems. Additionally, from a more explicitly religious perspective, Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, addresses the challenges of climate change without deviating from the Catholic moral traditionalism. In this encyclical, the Pope mentions that “concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion”, connecting the two issues (120). After all, in a Catholic framework, human life and creation at large are explicitly linked, drawing an easy parallel for socially conservative ecologism.
These parties’ rejection of increased central government power also accords well with a strongly embedded form of green localism. Localism especially guides many grassroots community groups focused on sustainability. After all, linking local food systems to consumers decreases transportation-based emissions, and often green issues manifest themselves in the local arena. Few, even those who might tune out the global climate debate, want toxic waste or landfills in their backyard. Finding local solutions to local issues also underpins a faction of ecologism that overlaps with conservative values. Some thinkers, like esteemed poet Wendell Berry, view local agriculture and governance as a way to preserve both the land and culture. While Berry’s politics notoriously escape labels, “his emphasis on family and marriage and his ambivalence toward abortion mark him as an outsider to the left” according to The Nation. Empowering local communities thus fulfills dual goals. Even better, conservative localism focuses also on the increased practicality and sometimes efficiency of decentralized politics. If the government is closer to voters, in theory it’s also more accountable and less intrusive from above.
Some right leaning green parties exemplify this philosophically consistent approach, providing an refreshingly different angle on environmental issues. The German ÖDP best highlights true green conservatism, represented in the European Parliament by physicist Klaus Buchner since 2014 (thanks to Germany’s low threshold for EP entry) and holding local political strength in Bavaria. Notwithstanding these victories, it remains a largely insignificant political force, never surpassing 0.4% in Bundestag elections or even electing any state parliamentarians. However, the ÖDP empirically demonstrates how ecology and conservatism can go hand in hand. Echoing religious calls for respecting human dignity, the ÖDP basic principles criticize unabashed individualism, demanding protection of the unborn while also standing up for the free market. These ideas flow from the well of a traditionalist conservatism, and combine seamlessly with environmentalism to advocate an ethic of life not unlike that promoted by the Catholic Church. The same logic of solidarity, decentralization, and respect for creation permeates the totality of the ÖDP’s stances. These positions stake out a fascinating, principled middle ground. While some conservatives in Germany, particularly in AfD, oppose refugee entry, the ÖDP instead supports tackling the causes of refugee outflows. It also both supports a European Embryo Protection act and a ban on plant gene patents, which have enriched companies like Monsanto, upholding the life-creation nexus. It prioritizes ‘people over profit’ but also decries out-of-control spending and plays up its own ‘economic competence’. These views differ from more mainstream offerings. MEP Klaus Buchner’s contributions in the European Parliament further his party’s unique placement. He speaks on diverse topics, opposing child marriage, supporting WTO reform to keep farmers on “their ancestral lands” (striking a Berry-esque tone), and espousing a soft euroscepticism for democratizing the EU. This agenda is right-of-center in many regards, but also left-of-center in some. The ÖDP thus models what a communitarian, market-friendly environmentalist party can look like. It’s a small movement, but one that shows signs of growth, hopefully increasing its vote share over time.
Perhaps others can catch on, but for now the outlook isn’t hopeful yet. The Virginia Independent Greens, Partido da Terra (Portugal), and Génération Ecologie (France) remain tiny or bankrupt, which hampers their ability to advance the market-green position. Thankfully, environmental issues have begun to permeate conservative discourse within mainstream parties, even in places like the United States where environmentalism tends to be strongly linked to the left in the public eye. For example, former South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis leads republicEN.org, which seeks to convince Republicans of market-friendly climate solutions like revenue neutral carbon pricing. They frame these initiatives in language of innovation and growth, also paying heed to the environment. Additionally, a growing group in the US Congress, the Climate Solutions Caucus, incorporates both Democrats and Republicans (nearly 20 GOPers!), many of whom support a revenue-neutral carbon fee dividend proposal from the Citizens Climate Lobby. Changing the language around green proposals and emphasizing economic growth undermines the fictional notion of a tradeoff between our planet and our pocketbooks.
On the other hand, dishearteningly, some right-greens take a less thoughtful approach. Instead, they marry ecology and conservatism for political benefit rather than true conviction.
In Mexico, despite its name, the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVE) displays no regard for real green conservatism. This cold pragmatism arises easily in a political system marked by clientelism and catch-all parties. While calling themselves ecologists and seemingly promoting environmentalism (including through children’s books about ecology on their website), the PVE is a corrupt right-wing body with little care for the environment. They frequently align with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which has ruled Mexico for much of the last century. This alignment leads the personalistic PVE to back discordant ideas. Listed in the linked article are platform issues like the death penalty, private healthcare vouchers, and mandatory English courses, but not many ecological points. Moreover, the PVE’s history is marred with corruption scandals, leading political scientists to conclude that PVE exists only to monetarily enrich its leaders and prop up PRI with different voters. Therefore, PVE is a right-green party, but only insofar as branding. Unlike the aforementioned examples, it utterly lacks commitment to environmentalist goals and should serve as a cautionary tale for those seeking true change.
The Latvian Green Party also marshals strange views that point to disingenuous adoption of eco-platforming. In coalition with the Farmers’ Union, the Greens have oddly won the support of the oil and transportation industries in Latvia. The party attempts to simultaneously cater to conservative farmers and urban environmentalists, but ends up with reactionary stances. According to an article by Daunis Auers, the Greens are close to the neo-fascist Latvian National Front, take nativist positions, and fail to get much done on environmental issues. Their figurehead, Raimonds Vejonis, was elected President of Latvia from 2015-2019, but his actual commitment to environmentalism was questionable. If this sounds eerily similar to PVE, that’s because it is. The cynical adoption of green rhetoric harms the prospects for environmental progress. However, we must elevate ecological conservatives actually committed to progress, and not those only seeking political gain.
That’s not to say anything about ecofascism, a dangerous far-right ideology that guided the recent El Paso mass murderer, according to his manifesto. Ecofascism seeks to connect environmental crises and overpopulation in exclusionary, jingoistic, dehumanizing, violent ways. This stems from a philosophy known as deep ecology, which a GQ article describes as “the idea that the only way to preserve life on Earth is to dramatically—forcefully, if necessary—reduce the human population”. Ecofascism represents a bastardization of environmental movements’ rhetoric; it turns decentralism into provincialism and tries to couch its fascist beliefs in ecology.
Ecofascism, as we saw all too tragically in El Paso, is more than just a hypothetical. It’s very real. Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”, also espoused these views. Worryingly, this rhetoric propagates in some political circles. Udo Voigt, a neo-Nazi representing the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP) in the European Parliament from 2014-2019, once gave a speech decrying the “murder of millions of animals every year”. This at the same time that his party treats migrants as less than human and denies the Holocaust. The co-optation of left-leaning rhetoric by the extreme right is dangerous, and not new; after all, the Nouvelle Droite in France wielded leftist rhetoric for the service of white nationalist views. Ecological conservatism is not ecofascism, but signs of this rhetoric’s growth call us all to vociferously resist the far-right. Thankfully, the NPD aside (and they’ve lost their seat in the EP), far-right political parties have not been very successful or visible proponents of environmentalism. Keeping these parties tiny and on the margins is important to ensuring that politics remains free of their incitements to violence and hatred.
Right-green parties take various forms, some legitimate, some deceitful, and some extremist. Today’s ÖDP best demonstrates how traditional conservatism can reinforce environmental viewpoints. Drawing on long Catholic and localist traditions, right-greens can legitimately advance the cause of our planet. Ecologist movements need friends on the right, but this allyship must emerge from a genuine care. We should all reject cynical right-greens and resist ecofascists. As we do so, we should also positively collaborate with right-greens like the ÖDP, Génération Écologie, and Republic.En. Putting aside disagreements on other issues, this is an important chance to unify the political spectrum and fight for our common future.