It appears sustainable policies are often associated with progressive or left-wing politics. For example, the Wikipedia article on green politics states:

Green politics is a political ideology that aims to create an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, social liberalism, and grassroots democracy.

Opposition to pipelines such as Nord Stream in Europe and Keystone in North America also appears to be linked with progessive policies.

Is this so?

Why are policies aimed at sustainability divisive at all?

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    I don't think it is sustainability that is divisive, it is the means that are potentially divisive. One might argue that the means the other group is putting forward to achieve sustainability do not properly balance the inherent tradeoffs. Then that person might be against the specific means, but not against sustainability in general.
    – mikeazo
    Feb 6, 2013 at 19:18

3 Answers 3


One reason is the fiscal aspect of sustainability and renewable energies. Fiscal conservatives believe that there should be little to no government intervention in the economy, and renewable energy currently requires a large amount of government subsidies to be competitive.

A push for environmentalism also requires greater government control and regulation. Taxes on power plants for the amount of CO2 they emit, the Clean Air Act, and any regulation from the EPA are evidence of that. Conservatism generally points towards a smaller government with less government control, and so this idea goes against the conservative idea.

Another reason relates more closely to the idea of global warming, which leads some of the pushes for "green" technologies such as wind or solar.

Conservative think tanks and since the 1990s have opposed the concept of global warming; they challenged scientific evidence, publicised what they perceived as beneficial aspects of global warming, and stated their strong beliefs that proposed remedies would do more harm than good. [1]

For as to why liberalism has had a greater tendency to support increased environmental regulations:

Environmentalism appealed to the well-educated middle class, but aroused fears among lumbermen, farmers, ranchers, blue collar workers, automobile companies and oil companies whose economic interests were threatened by new regulations. [2]

[1] Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap, "Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement's Counter-Claims," Social Problems, Nov 2000, Vol. 47 Issue 4, pp 499-522 in JSTOR

[2]Hays, Beauty, Health and Performance (1987) pp 287-328


The basest definition of "conservative" is someone who wants to keep(or conserve) things as they are, or adheres to more traditional values and more traditional ways of thinking

the word "liberal" no longer seems to have very much to do with it's base root word of libertas which means freedom, but It does continue to be a foil for conservative.

as such, the word progressive is probably more appropriate, as progressives are interested in progress or change.

the difference between progressive and conservative is a fundamental trait of human nature.

Do you want to change things so they become better? or do you want to avoid change so they don't become worse?

Introducing more green energy is a change(or at the very least, fairly new), so it's only natural that it would be seen as progressive.


  • <comments removed> Please keep comments focused on improving the post and try to not to turn comment threads into miniature chat rooms and debates. Thanks. Feb 7, 2013 at 13:56

There are 3 related basis for this:

  1. Usually, proponents of "green" stuff are only interested in government-mandated/enforced/driven solutions to the problems.

    This "Big Government" approach is considered progressive, of course.

  2. A lot of "green" movement has a political component - more specifically, anti-capitalist one. IOW, they don't see pollution/non-sustainability as bad intrinsically. They see it as proof of badness of free market/capitalism.

    Note: If you don't believe that, reflect that socialist countries - which have a significantly worse environmental record and worse pollution - rarely merit the "environmentalist" interest on nearly the same level. Also witness Greenpeace protesting NATO/US nuclear weapons (but not Soviet).

    Example: Belem declaration, quoting as its preambule from Morales:

    “The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model.” — Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007

    If you need a refresher on Soviet ecology, a good primer is "Ecocide in the USSR" by Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr. Or this article: "Why Socialism Causes Pollution" by Thomas DiLorenzo

  3. The solutions proposed by environmentalists almost invariably involve taking the money (via taxes) from "the rich" and spending it by the government, in a centrally planned way. Also a progressive associated philosophy.

    Quoting Brundtland Commission:

    Social Equality

    The Social Equality pillar of sustainable development focuses on the social well-being of people. The growing gap between incomes of rich and poor is evident throughout the world with the incomes of richer households increasing relative to the incomes of middle- or lower-class households. Global inequality has been declining, but the world is still extremely unequal, with the richest 1% of the world’s population owning 40% of the world’s wealth and the poorest 50% owning around 1%. The Brundtland Commission has made an impact in helping to reduce the number of people living on less than a dollar a day to just half of what it used to be, but this can also be attributed to growth in China and India. (src)

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    Per your note, please provide some citations supporting your statement rather than asking the questioner to "believe" and "reflect" on your statements. Feb 6, 2013 at 18:28
  • @MichaelKingsmill - do some well known things really need to be cited? Here's a random example: [1]
    – user4012
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:32
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    Green movements do not advocate green policies because they are anti capitalist, they are (frequently but not always) anti-capitalist because capitalists frequently pollute. Green movements are equally anti-government when government pollutes. Feb 6, 2013 at 18:45
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    @DJClayworth - did you bother reading the Belem declaration before downvoting? Did you bother reviewing environmental situation in socialist countries before your " because capitalists frequently pollute" quip?
    – user4012
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:46
  • 3
    Source for they don't see pollution/non-sustainability as bad intrinsically. They see it as proof of badness of free market/capitalism, please. Historically, both unregulated multinationals and "communist" dictatorships have polluted severely. As the second one has quite disappeared (the communist/capitalist nature of China is debatable) the fact that environmentalists target the first one does not support your claim that they only care if pollution is done by capitalists. And no, the — otherwise excellent — Belem declaration does not justify this.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2013 at 19:57

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