It would come as a surprise to anyone who had heard of him–but didn’t truly know him–that philosopher Roger Scruton should publish Green Philosophy. In 2011, the conservative English philosopher, less than at home in predominantly ideologically left universities, gave the world a work that declared that conservatives should take action to combat climate change.
In academia, Scruton is as conservative as they come. Known for his work on aesthetics, architecture, and music (in a BBC documentary, Why Beauty Matters, he disparages modern and post-modern art), as well as his polemics against communism (in the 1980s he ventured into Czchekoslovakia to participate in the underground education movement–until he was deported), the topic of climate change, much less a defense of the existence of anthropogenic climate change, was far from what one expected to appear under Also by the Author.
Oikophilia: translated from Greek, it means “love of the home.”
Reprinted in 2014 as How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism, the work set out to claim that environmental concern and action are not the sole domain of the political and cultural “left.” Conservatives, whether in his native England, America, or elsewhere, should be concerned about humankind’s hand in the undoing of a beautifully balanced and tuned ecosystem. “Conservatism and environmentalism are natural bedfellows,” he states.
If we all keep our environmental backyard clean, the whole of Mother Earth will be kept healthy.
But he does not suggest that conservatives simply give up the us-and-them mentality that divides otherwise fairly likeminded conservatives and liberals, and accept the current solution as proposed. The top-down approach that is so often the go-to solution for those on the left end of the political spectrum will not do: that is the problem. Rather, loyal to his conservative roots, Scruton claims that change begins with the individual and is best served with small-state approaches.
The philosopher responds with a philosophical solution, coining the term oikophilia. Translated from Greek, it means “love of the home,” and Scruton extrapolates “the home” to our environment. Putting it briefly, if we all keep our environmental backyard clean, the whole of Mother Earth will be kept healthy. Making environmentalism a personal, individual issue–rather than a concern for big governments and NGOs–places responsibility in each of our palms, and makes us more attentive citizens of the earth.
Oikophilia was well received: the book is reasonable, articulate, and civil, as is the man himself, a classic example of traditional English manners. But oikophilia has been criticized as being outdated, based on an archaic mindset and sources, its trust in individuals and local environmentalism too naive for a world in which the effects of globalism are irreversible (NASA predicts that the Arctic will be devoid of ice by the middle of the 21st century.) But almost every review written on Scruton’s book admits there is merit to his philosophy, although they may criticize it.
In sum: oikophilia may or may not solve the crisis on the horizon: larger, more frequent storms, mass sealife extinctions due to rising ocean temperatures, agricultural overhaul as flora and fauna drop of the map, political turmoil as human migration begins in earnest, and, not to mention, the introduction of dangerous tropical diseases to countries medically and culturally unequipped to cope. Critics are right to be skeptical of Scruton’s “little platoons” of environmentalism in the face of such predictions, and their insistence on an environmental martial law of sorts is understandable.
But sometimes what the world needs most is not another loud voice, but a calm, reasoned fable of one older and wiser, reminding those on the precipice of an uncertain future that we are survivors and always will be, and we would do well to keep our heart and soul as we journey across uncharted waters.
Oikophilia is a long-term solution for a species who is in the evolutionary game for the long-term.
But, most importantly, Scruton’s green philosophy is a long-term solution for a species who is in the evolutionary game for the long-term. Whether we call the earth our home for the next several thousand or million years, or soon find other planets to inhabit, our industrialized, technologically-advancing race must begin cultivating oikophilia to avoid repeating the mistakes of our first run-in with Mother Nature’s patience.
One day, the natural functions of the planet, and our hand in its changes, will no longer be a left or right issue. Every culture venerates nature in its own way, and promotes cleanliness–it is only recently that one side of the political spectrum has appropriated the cause and alienated the other. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all inspire a harmonious and responsible relationship with our natural world. It is a human issue, as long as human beings have the means to affect their environment.
We need an ethic, a tradition, that all humans alike can adopt and perform to ensure that we venture into an exciting future responsibly and humanely.
There will come a time when we will have the power to negatively affect not only our planet and the billions of lifeforms it hosts, but other planets, and, perhaps, alien life. We need an ethic, a tradition, that all humans alike can adopt and perform to ensure that we venture into an exciting future responsibly and humanely. In this endeavor, at least, Roger Scruton has succeeded brilliantly, and delivered us all a beautiful gift.