Roger Scruton provides a thought-provoking read in How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism— even if some parts are difficult to stomach for the died-in-the-wool climate-change advocates. However, if you stick with Scruton throughout the book, he explains how the scientific underpinnings of the environmental movement are difficult for laypeople to understand.
Scruton’s aim is not to tear down environmental advocacy. Rather, he proposes to do the exact opposite—to make a case for environmental advocacy that is built from the bottom up and that has a solid foundation in everyone taking care of the environment (instead of relying on all of us to understand the complexities of climate science). Scruton is skeptical of large— national or global— organizations that do not have ties to a specific place. He recognizes that national and global organizations can achieve things a local group cannot, but he also illustrates how these organizations can do harm to specific environments, especially when the people in those areas are not engaged in local advocacy.
Scruton provides an example of his ideal organization in the Women’s Institute, a group with over 200,000 members that is organized into local branches that are run by and for the women in those branches. He describes what he sees as best about the organization by saying that, “it is, in short, an instrument of peace, and, being ‘depoliticized’, it lends itself to the conservative instinct, offering solace to those who wish to keep their heads down and get on with their lives.” Understanding how an organization can have conservative instincts and be de-politicized is critical to understanding Scruton’s overall argument—that conservatives and liberals can and must respect each other’s instincts, specifically our common instinct to preserve the environment while working to downplay other politicized differences.
Ultimately, this attachment to our local environment, our home, is the cornerstone of Scruton’s message. He uses the Greek oikophilia to denote love of household or love of home. Focus on the oikos allows Scruton to connect the oikos of ‘economy’ (oikonomia) and ‘ecology’ (oikologia).
Misunderstanding the common connection to oikos is the main reason Scruton attributes to the miscommunication between those who see themselves as environmentalists and those who see themselves as economic conservatives. He offers that “self-styled conservatives have been much criticized— often rightly— for their belief that all political decisions are really economic decisions, and that market solutions are the only solutions. Yet, the conservative emphasis on economics begins to make sense if we put the oikos back in oikonomia. Respect for the oikos is the real reason why conservatives dissociate themselves from currently fashionable forms of environmental activism.”
And it is precisely this understanding of the values of those who see themselves more as conservatives and less as environmentalists that is most valuable to sustainability professionals. If we can all recognize the ways in which we are advocates for our home, then we can find the common ground necessary to preserve our homes.