Once I took part in a panel discussion on climate change at an Oxford literary festival. I began by explaining to the audience how very much I loved nature – probably at least as much as they did; how I liked nothing better than wild swimming in the River Wye, or striding across Scottish glens, with their patchwork-quilt browns, greens and purples, or riding across the matchlessly beautiful English countryside...

But really, I might just as well not have bothered, for the audience had already made up their minds. Because I’m a conservative, it naturally followed that I must be selfish, greedy, wedded to my unsustainable lifestyle, a denier of science, and hell-bent on economic growth at the expense of our planet’s future.

The clue’s in the name: Conservatives are – and always have been – the world’s best conservationists.

This caricature is a big problem for conservatives. Some of them get so desperate to prove their critics wrong that you see them embracing all manner of half-baked eco-nonsense, as we saw in Britain not so long ago when David Cameron campaigned under the slogan “Vote Blue, Go Green”. But it really isn’t necessary. The clue’s in the name: Conservatives are – and always have been – the world’s best conservationists.

Partly, it’s a function of our rural roots. Not all conservatives hunt, shoot, fish, or farm, of course, but the principles are in our DNA: a deep sympathy with and understanding of nature, but untainted by metropolitan sentimentality. If you’re rearing livestock, it’s clearly in your interests to breed healthy, contented animals; if you’re running a shooting estate or maintaining a fishing river, again it matters that your quarry and its environment are sustainably managed. You love and respect your animals but you’re not squeamish about killing them for sport, population management or food.

Consider the matchlessly beautiful English landscape. The reason it looks that way is because it was made that way by generations of natural conservatives: stone walls and hedges – instead of cheaper wire – for jumping over on horseback; spinneys and copses to provide covert for game; lakes for wildfowl; oak-studded parkland for deer.

This is a key point so often missed by urban liberals and Greens. Except, perhaps, in the most remote wildernesses, there’s little natural about nature – and hasn’t been for millennia. Forests need thinning and replanting; those wondrously patterned Scottish grouse moors are created by burning sections of heather to create new shoots for the young grouse; predators such as foxes need culling. That’s why, as surveys have repeatedly shown, you find greater biodiversity on privately owned estates patrolled by gamekeepers than you do on land run by politically correct organisations like Europe’s largest wildlife charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Green environmental policy is crippled by a dogma originating in 1950s junk-science ecology that nature exists in a “steady state” and always finds its natural balance. You only have to leave your garden untended for a month to appreciate the fallacy of this. Weeds and pests proliferate.

Even those conservatives who believe that man-made climate change is a serious threat can surely agree with me that $1.5 trillion a year to reduce global warming by less than one fifth of a degree does not represent good value for money.

There’s a second, equally important – and related – reason why we conservatives make the best conservationists. That is the fact that temperamentally and ideologically we are disposed towards empiricism. We are suspicious of policies adopted just because they look good or make us feel all warm and fluffy inside. What we prefer instead is hard-headed – often tradition-sanctioned – evidence-based policies which actually work.

Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in the current debate on climate change. Conservatives have long been more sceptical on this issue than the Green liberal-Left because we have an instinctive aversion to fixing things that may not be broken. And an even greater reluctance to spend huge sums of taxpayers’ money on “solutions” which won’t make the blindest bit of difference anyway.

According to some estimates, the amount currently spent on “decarbonizing” the world economy in order to stave off “man-made global warming” is around $1.5 trillion per annum. That’s about the same amount that we spend every year on the global online shopping industry: an awful lot, in other words.

But is that climate money well spent? Not according to Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish statistician and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Last year, in the aftermath of the COP21 climate summit in Paris, he calculated what difference it would make if all the signatories to the Paris agreement stuck to their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – that is, their voluntary carbon dioxide reduction targets.

On his most optimistic scenario, Lomborg calculated that the resultant effect would be a reduction in global warming, by the end of the century, of, wait for it... 0.17 C.

Even those conservatives who believe that man-made climate change is a serious threat can surely agree with me that $1.5 trillion a year to reduce global warming by less than one fifth of a degree does not represent good value for money.

Worse still, it distracts from more urgent and serious environmental problems like water depletion, unsustainable fishing practices, and deforestation. To repeat, it’s not that we conservatives don’t care about the environment – just that we’re sufficiently hard-headed to understand that scarce resources need to be deployed carefully, not squandered willy-nilly.