The right-wing in the United States worked very hard for many years to redefine the word “liberal” as negative. So now progressives should work equally hard to redefine the word “conservative” to be positive.
The true conservatives are those of us who believe in conserving nature, so future generations will not curse us for leaving them a burnt cinder of a planet with depleted resources.
To be conservative does not mean taking a right-wing position on all issues; it means to conserve, to not waste resources. Yet most of the people in Washington who call themselves conservatives do not believe in conserving anything.
They promote policies allowing corporations to convert our natural resources into money: cut down the forests, take all the minerals out of the ground, remove whole mountain tops to get at the coal inside, and inject poisonous “fracking” chemicals into the Earth to get at the last remnants of fossil fuels.
Reclaiming the word conservative to its true meaning would also help progressives get out of their culture of NO: no more wars, no more racial discrimination, no more destruction of the environment.
It is easy to understand how the left in the United States developed a culture of NO. We got really good at denouncing things such as U.S. support for white-minority rule in Southern Africa, and the way U.S. companies set up sweatshops abroad that take away jobs at home. Protesting these things came naturally to people who give a damn about the welfare of others, no matter what their nationality.
It was logical that well-educated people opposed to the U.S. role as imperial enforcer of global capitalism would rise up in protest. But stating clearly what you are against, does not create an alternative.
So decades ago the progressive movement started to build alternative institutions that could create jobs and heal the damage we do to natural systems. This could be called the sustainability movement or the green economy movement, but it amounted to a new model of doing business: a triple-bottom-line model that unites social justice, environmental restoration and financial sustainability.
Whether it is renewable energy, green building, organic agriculture, biofuels, water conservation technology, or recycling and composting, this new conservation economy is where the growth and profits will be in the future for the simple reason that as the natural resources gets depleted, the profitability of saving the environment goes up.
This movement for “conservation economics” is proving to be popular with governments and private investors alike. The city of Los Angeles will save $10 million per year after it replaces its streetlights with energy efficient LED lights.
Cities as conservative as Salt Lake City and Anchorage are capturing the methane that comes off their garbage landfills and sewage treatment plants, burning the methane in generators that power those facilities, thus saving money on electricity and protecting the climate from a gas that is far worse than CO2 for trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Companies both large (InterfaceFlor, the giant carpet company) and small (TerraCycle takes refuse out of the waste stream and makes dozens of products) are proving that there are ways to make more profits saving nature than destroying it. The Green Festivals—weekend green economy shows cosponsored by Green America and Global Exchange— attract 25,000-35,000 participants in diverse cities. So the green of money and the green of the environment are coming together.
And just at the time when the progressive movement is transitioning out of its NO culture into creating positive alternatives to nature-destroying capitalism, the right in the United States is painting itself into a corner of standing against science: denying climate change, opposing investments in green energy, and generally taking on a culture of NO.
So here is a project for the left. The right took the word liberal and made it negative. We should take the word conservative and make it positive.
Who are the real conservatives? It is the left and the scientific community, who are telling us that we cannot physically sustain an economy where money values rule over the life cycle, and we need to accelerate the transition to an economy where life values rule over the money cycle.
So let’s start using that word conservative in the proper way, and take away the adjective that has been so abused by the right.
What do you think of Kevin’s call to action; “So here is a project for the left. The right took the word liberal and made it negative. We should take the word conservative and make it positive.” Share your thoughts in the Comments Section.
Dr. Kevin Danaher is a co-founder of Global Exchange and the Green Festivals.