What comes to mind?
Good sound values, protective concern, rightful caution, the sanctity of hearth and home, kith and kin?
Inert certainty, stuffy moralism, judgmental rigidity, fearfulness?
It’s too easy to caricature and judge, fall into the trap of a dualistic ‘us v them’ mentality. But no one has all the answers and no one is completely wrong. (Here’s an interesting podcast on the benefits of stepping beyond our natural ‘moral tribes’).
I’m not so sure that rigidity, fearfulness, exclusion or inertia are confined to conservatives. Or rather that perhaps the negative aspects of conservatism are apparent across the spectrum of movements, beliefs, philosophies and politics.
The positives of conservatism have much to offer. There is value in caution, in not ditching the tried and true in favour of the latest rage, stepping back to analyse and assess rather than diving in. The precautionary principal underpins ecological protection, if an activity is accompanied by the risk of serious damage, that will outweigh any benefit. The values of hearth and home, kith and kin often find expression as parochialism and racism or so-called family values that give little space to the reality of our diverse human relationships. But, positively, those same values can provide a sanctuary, a place of security and nourishment or relationships of care and love.
Maules Creek on the big sky country of the Liverpool Plains in NSW is an endangered White Box-Gum Forest, the last of its kind and home to an amazingly diverse ecosystem. It’s also part of the Gomeroi nation. And the site of a massive open cut coal mine owned and operated by Whitehaven Coal. The mine, which has government approval despite community opposition and in the face of the precautionary principle, will require the Leard State Forest to be clear felled. It will substantially and negatively impact on the water table, which is estimated to drop 5-10 metres, and disrupt the subterranean water system. Most sobering perhaps, the mine will emit 30 million tonnes CO2 each year, equivalent to the annual emissions of New Zealand’s entire energy sector (see http://350.org.au/maules-campaign/).
It is also the location and focus of a campaign by an unlikely alliance of greenies, local farmers, the Gomeroi people and now, religious folk (apologies to religious folk for the twee appellation).
On 12 March 2014 at Maules Creek, elders and leaders of the Christian and Buddhist faiths, members of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), took a stand against the continued expansion of coal mining in Australia. The ARRCC (a rather piratical acronym) includes members from every major world religion and is committed to action on “the greatest moral challenge of our time”, to use the possibly prophetic, albeit now infamously hypocritical, coinage by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. (Yes, he really did say that.)
One of those leaders is Thea Ormerod, president of ARRCC, whose thought-provoking opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald raises the deliciously radical concept of counter-cultural climate activism as conservative:
The movement to wind down coalmining in Australia may be counter-cultural but it is the truly conservative one. Its aim is to keep the Earth’s ecosystems more or less intact for those who suffer the impact of climate change in developing countries, for our own young people here and for future generations. Not a radical position at all.
But as Ormerod states, people of faith are no strangers to the radical path, pointing to the non-violent resistance movements of anti-Apartheid and opposition to segregation.
The irony is that acting to safeguard Earth – creation, gift of God, Mother, sacred country, blessed realm – is now seen as radical, when really, it is the ultimate conservative position.
What could be more conservative than fighting for your home and your children’s future?
For more information on the Maules Creek campaign, and to get involved in the Alliance click here.
P.S I think there is a world of difference between this idea of conservative and the recently reported views of our Prime Minister concerning “ultimate conservationists”.