With the death of Margaret Thatcher and the loss of her singular voice around environmentalism, it is rewarding to remember her ideas, which this article from PERC does.
“Viewing Margaret Thatcher’s poignant eulogy to President Reagan last June reminded me of the many enjoyable hours I spent watching the former prime minister engaging the opposition during “question time” in Parliament. Recalling her outstanding rhetorical skills, I reached for my copy of The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher, a treasure trove of her eloquence on political and philosophic issues.
“Having served two Republican presidents and an equal number of GOP governors in the area of natural resources and the environment, I was pleased and surprised to see several entries in the index under the heading “environmental concerns.” Upon checking the references, I learned that during her later years as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher focused on a variety of global environmental issues — ozone depletion, climate change, land preservation, tropical rainforests, and pollution — while not relenting at all in her critique of socialism and statism. These speeches underscore her commitment to conservation of the natural world, the hallmark of a true conservative. As Robin Harris, a Thatcher advisor and editor of The Collected Speeches, notes, “the most enduringly significant passages are those in which she justifies Conservative policies against the (recurring) charges of materialism and selfishness” (334).
“Thatcher summed up what she believed to be the Tory philosophy on environmental protection in an October 1988 speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy — with full repairing lease. This Government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full” (341).
“A month before, she gave an address to the Royal Society in which she outlined the government’s shift to supporting basic science, leaving commercially oriented research to the private sector. She stated her support for the concept of “sustainable economic development” whereby “[s]table prosperity can be achieved throughout the world provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded” (332). Citing progress in reducing air and water pollution, she acknowledged the costs, but stated her belief that it was “money well and necessarily spent, because the health of the economy and the health of our environment are totally dependent upon each other” (332). This speech reveals Thatcher to be apprehensive about mankind’s impact on the global environment, expressing the concern that “we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself ” (331).
“More European than American in her environmental sensibilities, Thatcher supports land-use planning with “green belts,” the British equivalent of “smart growth.” She calls for a global convention on climate change. Yet she also expresses a more traditional conservatism: “There is something deeper in us, an innate sense of belonging, of sharing life in a world that we have not fully understood” (356). Citing the pictures of barren planets sent back by Voyager 2, she expresses awe at the “solemn reminder that our planet has the unique privilege of life . . . The more we master our environment, the more we must learn to serve it” (356).