Green Conservatism

Connie Hedegaard (photo by Kate Sheppard)

Connie Hedegaard (photo by Kate Sheppard)

Kate Sheppard was on the same trip to Denmark as I was, and wrote up this post about our conversation with Connie Hedegaard, Folketing member for the Conservative People’s Party and Minister for Climate and Energy in the current Liberal-CPP coalition government:

“It’s at the core of conservatism to take care of the environment, to protect nature, to use resources responsibly,” said Hedegaard. “I can think of nothing that’s more conservative than that.”

Her priority, she said, is that their policies be vehicles for economic growth. The export of clean tech increased 19 percent last year, triple what it was ten years ago. Just recently it passed pork as the country’s leading export product.

“I have tried to turn this into a growth agenda. It is not an anti-growth agenda,” she said. “Often back in the ’70s for the left, socialists and liberals, it was an anti-growth agenda. In a world where we’re going to become 9 billion people by the middle of this century, we must have growth. The challenge is to make this growth more green, to make it sustainable.”

This is basically a Teddy Roosevelt kind of view that from time to time has been espoused by John McCain here in the United States. Starting in the waning days of the Presidential campaign, and continuing for most of the Obama administration, this strain of green conservatism seems to have largely vanished. It recently got a bit of a boost, however, in the form of a joint op-ed by John Kerry and Lindsay Graham. Still, one strains to come up with an example of a right-of-center American politician whose level of commitment to the climate change issue would be recognizable by a Hedegaard or an Angela Merkel or a Nicholas Sarkozy. In part that reflects interest-group politics—the United States is a significant producer of fossil fuels in a way that only Norway is in Europe. But in large part I do think it reflects a kind of failure of intellect and imagination that American politicians have occasionally flirted with transcending, usually only to return to orthodoxy soon enough.