A question or three for my non-liberal readers

I’m doing some research for a project I’m working on, and am hoping you might be able to provide a little insight for me. The general subject has to do with environmental policy and management.

For the past several years, things environmental has been perceived as “liberal” issues, and both the people embracing these issues and those who criticized them have come from a lot of different angles. More recently, though – perhaps starting with former Reagan aide Jim Bakker’s comments on the subject – we have seen more and more conservative figures and groups stepping up to claim the issue as their own. These include Republicans for Environmental Protection, so-called “crunchy conservatives,” and the Evangelical Environmental Network.

The question has to do with terminology and how conservatives (whether libertarian, neo-con, or social/evangelical in orientation) see and talk about these issues, because the language we use says a lot about the underlying belief systems. The specific word I want to ask about is “sustainability.” My research indicates that many conservatives hear in this word and its derivatives a sort of liberal code and that when they hear it they’re automatically on the defensive because those who use the term tend to believe in a variety of other causes that conservatives are opposed to.

So here’s the multi-part question:

  • Do you have negative impressions surrounding the use of the term “sustainability”? That is, is it in some way a “bad” word or does it signal that the speaker is someone whose interests are at odds with yours?
  • Do you believe that other conservatives react this way? If not, what is your impression of how the term is regarded in conservative circles?
  • Clearly those who use the term do so because it aligns with values they consider positive. When you think about why you value the environment (and here feel free to speak more generally about the conservatives you know), what sort of positive terminology would you use instead? That is, where a liberal might talk about sustainability, what would you talk about?

I greatly appreciate your time here, and would also ask you to pass this link on to conservative-minded people that you think might have an insight into the question.

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8 comments

  1. randomness
    Whether I am a conservative or not depends on what we’re talking about.
    I don’t hang out in political circles at all, let alone circles that actually use the term. I don’t use it much, either. It has too many syllables. 🙂 But I’ll give it a shot.
    1) Just saying the word in my head leads to several associations. Good: self-contained, renewable. Neutral: consistent. Bad: static, non-evolving. Hey, maybe we need to invent a new tarot card. 🙂
    2) I dunno. Like I said, people don’t use the term much around me. But, it does bring have some bad connotations when I think about it. Maybe there are too many “essess” in the word. Like a sssssnake. You would think that neo-cons would LIKE a term that implies anti-evolution. Heh. But I guess the snake thing trumps intellectual design. 🙂
    3) I like renewable. I guess anything that implies growth would work for me. But I’m a friggin tree-huggin pagan, too.

  2. I’ll give it a shot.
    1. I don’t ever read the word “sustainability” in any conservative writings, but can find many references to it in “The Nation” and “Utne Reader.” I don’t think it’s a bad word at all.
    2. Other conservatives might react negatively to this word, but like liberals, many people don’t even know why they’re conservative. For the record, I’m not a neo-con, social/religious, or libertarian….I’m a Goldwater Conservative, with a splash of William F. Buckley Jr. thrown in.
    3. I value the environment, and have a strong belief that technology will ultimately aid in cleaning up the environment. Our cities have much better air quality than they did 70 years ago when everything was heated by coal. Technology has helped in this case. I’m all for the preservation of a clean environment, and don’t wish for it to become political hard ball. I don’t want to be passionate about a clean environment, I want to be objective.
    Aloha,
    Jeff

  3. I can’t speak for US politics but have some insight in the NGO sector in Africa where that word pops up like lice. Usually “sustainable development”. I’ve always regarded it as a wimpish cop-out statement. So we don’t have privatisation of state assets here, we have restructuring or empowerment.
    And, when development organisations realise that they have to actually, maybe, possibly, stop freeloading and run their organisations like businesses (i.e. be accountable for their actions and make more than they spend) then we get “sustainable development”. The statement becomes even more outlandish when the development agencies specialise in small business development, because then we get the composite “sustainable small-business development” which makes me gag.
    Since, and this happens here (I have no idea about the US), there is no actual intention to become self-sustaining when the term “sustainable development” is used. No organisation is going to stop fundraising just because they have decided to become “sustainable”.

  4. I think what I need is something that signifies sustainable for the progressives, stewardship for those more based in religious impulses, and development for the libertarians.
    Is there such a word? May have to make one up….

  5. While you’re looking, can you find me a better word / phrase than development / economic development? It’s starting to get hackneyed, like “strategy” or “sustainability” and it also sounds too much like I’m in IT.
    Do liberals get terribly upset when you mention the word “responsibility” or even “personal integrity”? I’ll see if I can dig up some stuff our politicians use. One commentator pointed out that, with all the attempts to “level our playing fields” you could probably roll a bowling ball from Johannesburg to Cape Town on one throw.

  6. “Development” is an established term, isn’t it? And honestly, I think it’s a term that may need updating, because we’re entering a new era where all kinds of drivers are going to be insisting on new modes of development. You know, like sustainable development.
    We may be after the same word here.
    Liberals are fine with those terms per se, although it depends on how forked the tongues speaking them are, I guess….

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