US politics are currently dominated by the two terms, liberal and conservative, which seem to be used interchangeably with Democrat and Republican, and left-wing and right-wing. So-called conservatives like to raise doubts about scientific or humanistic claims, often because those claims contradict a previously held (and lucrative) position. So right-wing politicians (of any political party) have resisted the freeing of slaves, the suffrage of women, the teaching of evolution, all in the name of traditionalist or conservative ideology. Now, the same group resists the notion that human activities are capable of altering the environment, perhaps catastrophically.
I got lucky with my last two TRN columns focusing on the futility of the colonization of Mars. Although it felt risky taking shots at Stephen Hawking’s apocalyptic thinking, and Buzz Baldwin’s antiquated posturing, it was the right thing to do, and even politically prescient. Shortly after those columns were posted, Newt Gingrich, a nominally conservative presidential candidate, made a fool of himself proposing that the US colonize the Moon. As in, establish the Moon as an actual US colony! This produced a great deal of fodder for the comedians, making for an unusually genuinely funny spectacle in the Republican presidential primaries.
Why would a self-declared conservative openly promote space colonization? What’s conservative about space colonization? The answer is, there’s nothing conservative about space colonization, except the notion that it could give one group a strategic advantage over another group. Any opportunity to shower projectiles upon one’s opponents from a greater height appeals intuitively to the barbaric, war-driven mindset that has dominated civilization past. From this so-called conservative perspective, a Moon base (with its accompanying Star Wars-grade weaponry) is a logical extension of the nuclear submarine (with intercontinental missiles), which is the logical extension of the longbow. Menace your enemies from a safe distance and you will prevail.
There’s substantial scientific consensus regarding the role of human activity in changing the physical environment, including the climate. Climate science is a full-fledged ongoing endeavor, with the accompanying orthodox opinions, growing pains, marginal (yet possible meritorious) hypotheses, successes and failures. But you know when people are trying to confuse the issue and when they’re trying to preempt the validity of a whole endeavor. If the position is that climate change just doesn’t matter, that the Earth is ours to exploit, the position is not skeptical or conservative but reactionary.
The nice thing about the label reactionary is that it places the associated positions squarely in the trash can of history. Conservatives have something to offer. The word shares a root with conservation, after all! Our elders have substantial knowledge to transmit to us. But reactionaries have little to offer beyond acting as anthropological case studies. Like the bestselling reactionary Ann Coulter, who has made a career out of milking the liberal/conservative false-dichotomy:
“The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet – it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars – that’s the Biblical view.”
“Oil Good; Democrats bad”, Townhall, 12/10/2000 (retrieved from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ann_Coulter.)
However they affiliate politically, most non-reactionaries know that this perspective leads to catastrophe. There’s nothing conservative about up-ending the environment. We all need air, water, and food. The terrestrial environment is the only show in the only town.
Ryan MB Hoffman has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. He is mostly interested in how protein molecules fluctuate throughout their functional processes. During his doctoral work he studied troponin, which is a switch that regulates striated muscle contraction. He works as a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego, at the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. He is active with the Intrinsically Disordered Proteins subgroup of the Biophysical Society. Ryan likes to remind people that his contributions to TRN are performed entirely using his personal resources.