Earth Day For Non-Socialists

The Economist has a great piece on why Greens should be embracing the free market:

If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world’s natural resources—changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good).

“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world’s top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday’s failed hopes, today’s heavy costs and tomorrow’s demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. One example lies in the assignment of property rights over “commons”, such as fisheries, that are abused because they belong at once to everyone and no one. Where tradable fishing quotas have been issued, the result has been a drop in over-fishing. Emissions trading is also taking off. America led the way with its sulphur-dioxide trading scheme, and today the EU is pioneering carbon-dioxide trading with the (albeit still controversial) goal of slowing down climate change.

The last thing the world needs is more socialism. When property rights are removed, the result is the tragedy of the commons — a worse environment rather than a better one. If a command and control economy was the solution to our environmental worries, then the Soviet Union wouldn’t have turned out to be an environmental disaster. From the shrinking Aral Sea to the ghost town of Pripyat, the Soviets left a wake of environmental destruction that would take decades to erase.

Compare that to the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators for 2005 which indicate that the environment in the US is getting significantly better. Furthermore, it’s becoming more and more evident that economic progress and environmental progress are not at odds. The Third World is some of the most polluted territory on Earth, while the First World has the resources to dedicate to cleaning up the environment. There’s now more forest land in the US than there was when Columbus arrived. Wetlands are expanding, not shrinking. Emissions trading and better technology is reducing the amount of airborne particulates.

We can, and should do better. Wasteful, inefficient, and polluting coal and gas power plants should be replaced with safe, efficient, and and non-polluting pebble-bed reactors that can produce clean energy without the possibility of nuclear meltdowns and with minimal waste. With nuclear material recycling and vitrification, it’s possible to have a nuclear program that produces a small amount of fully-contained nuclear waste that poses no threat to humans or the environment. If we’re going to transition to a system in which our vehicles are powered by hydrogen, we need to have the electrical capacity to create it. The only way to do that without polluting the environment is through safe, clean nuclear power.

It’s also important to note that without economic growth, these advances wouldn’t be possible. It takes a vigorous economy to allow the capital and brain power needed to produce these advances. The environmentalist movement has put itself as detractors of economic growth. It’s important that the Luddites in the radical Green movement not be allowed to control the debates as they currently do.

The problem with the environmentalist movement is that it’s not a political movement, it’s a religion. Things like cost/benefit analyses and sound public policy don’t bring in the donors to the environmentalist organizations that run the movement. What does bring in the money and the attention are fearful announcements of certain impending doom — regardless of the scientific reality.

Until the environmentalist movement separates itself off from the fear-mongers and environmental decisions are made on sound public policy based on rigorous double-blind scientific analysis and accurate cost/benefit analyses, the environmentalist movement will remain marginalized. Given that a healthy living environment is a goal that should be shared by everyone, it’s important that the Chicken Littles of the environmentalist give way to the serious and rational scientists.

One thought on “Earth Day For Non-Socialists

  1. In the last half century, virtually every environmental improvement has come in response to regulations and emission controls that “free market practitioners” have fought every step of the way. The marketplace is driven by gluttonous consumption and taking the path of least resistance to secure boffo profits. Market players have little interest in willfully clutching onto a green mindset so long as it costs them more money than it does to not embrace greens. Obviously, they will cater to niche green markets with hybrid cars and the like, but will simultaneously finance political candidates who undermine the necessity and effectiveness of such products out of fear that conservation will catch fire among a population whose relentless consumption they depend upon. Meanwhile, the energy barons will continue to stifle the growth of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar with the help of their administration cronies, slashing the federal budget for financing the study of renewables as was done in the past.

    Certainly there are plenty of crazies in the green movement who are highly counterproductive to the movement’s effectiveness. Far less effective, however, is putting the people responsible for starting the Cuyahoga River on fire in complete control of the nation’s environmental movement in the name of “markets always working”.

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