Nature News

|

New at Reason: From the archives, Ron Bailey's good news for Earth Day.

Advertisement

NEXT: I'm Sorry, Dave, I Can't Let You Vote That Way

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “New at Reason”?

    Oh I get it! It’s Earth Day so you guys are recycling. Good one.

  2. I think that the “doomsters” are needed to keep pushing continued environmental improvements. After all, it wasn’t market forces that made rivers stop burning and brought dead lakes back to life.

  3. No, but some of it was the realization that ‘live’ lakes are a revenue generator for municipalities. Clean rivers too. Extremists just muddy the waters, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  4. Lurk said: “I think that the “doomsters” are needed to keep pushing continued environmental improvements. After all, it wasn’t market forces that made rivers stop burning and brought dead lakes back to life.”

    I would agree to some extent, but the doomsters also do a lot of harm by hurting the credibility of legitimate environmental concerns and causes, by saying we’re all going to be starved to death by 1985, the world will be 10 degrees warmer by next Tuesday, etc.
    I heard this story once about a boy who cried wolf….

  5. J,
    Every political movement needs its extremists to push the agenda. Then you have the moderates pluck out the most reasonable and you move forward from there.

  6. There’s a certain smugness that some libertarians have that just really makes me itch. On the one hand you have a professed believe in human freedom, choice, and the rewards of hard work, and by the same token, a cocky belief that human economic development inevitably makes the environment better.

    No, people had to work to make the environment better. The Clean Water Act had to get passed, and then it had to get enforced.

    Like it or not, there are highly advanced societies that don’t give a rat’s ass about endangered species or habitat or the environment in general. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia all pop to mind as places where it sucks to be a fish. So it isn’t inevitable, it’s the product of political force.

    Yes, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing and doom-saying among the greenies. But if we’d left things as they were in 1970 and not tried to improve them, what would have been the result? A pure hearted market driven push to clean the air? Probably not….

    Just like democracy and freedom itself, the free market can be trusted to do some things by itself, and other tasks require a different approach. You wouldn’t try to fight a war with free and democratic soldiers, and office workers don’t have perfect freedom of speech.

    Now that we have some real results, would a little more innovation and entrepreneurship help the environment? Should regulators show more flexibility and concentrate on making their rules clear and easy to follow? Of course. But let’s not pretend that Adam Smith’s invisible hand got us here.

  7. I remain a little perplexed by the article. True, the doom-saying extrapolations did not prove out. But the same article grants that DDT had pretty much wiped out the eagles, that various lakes and rivers were dead or polluted. (I remember the classic navigation map of the Arthur Kill, marked “unsafe for boat-bottoms”)

    Just because the very worst didn’t prove true doesn’t mean that the efforts in cleaning up weren’t worthwhile, as the article acknowleges implicitly: things are better now than they were 30 years ago. It’s pretty strange to use this as evidence that regulation doesn’t work.

    Can regulation be excessive? Of course. Can it be inefficient compared to some best-of-all-possible-worlds scenario. Of course. Does this mean that regulation is not worth doing? No.

    Of course, cap-and-trade is a valuable tool. But if we’ve actually defined a normative value on a reasonably clean environment, we also need a few absolutes. Environmentalism at heart is: “don’t shit in your own nest.” There should be a limit beyond which any individual actor is condemned for going beyond reason, independently of any general cap-and-trade.

    Rights, after all, must work both ways. Consider the neighbor of some nasty 40-year-old coal-fired electricity plant. Do they have the right to expect reasonably clean air? If they do, then the plant has no right to pollute, independent of what kind of fines or “compensation” they are willing to pay. That’s why it’s not necessarily anti-libertarian to be in favor of New Source Review and similar regulations. It’s just not reasonable to assume an absolute right to pollute. Once you’ve assumed that, well, we’re only haggling over the price.

  8. It should come as no surprise to anyone that environmental regulations can be crafted primarily to benefit business.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg19n4b.html

  9. The environmental lobby appeals to government and its monopoly on force rather than persuasion to achieve their vision of control, and they have no compunctions about lying in order to get others to vote give up their own liberty! This helps explains the ridiculous predictions quoted in Ron’s article.

    Look at Tim Wirth’s shameful advice: “We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing – in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”

    National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) researcher Steven Schneider and global warming action promoter said that, “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

  10. The evidence is that it’s capitalism, and its resultant increase in both technology and prosperity that makes for a cleaner world, not government regulation.

    From Ron’s article:

    “In the U.S., air quality has been improving rapidly since before the first Earth Day–and before the federal Clean Air Act of 1970. In fact, ambient levels of particulates and sulfur dioxide have been declining ever since accurate records have been kept. Between 1960 and 1970, for instance, particulates declined by 25 percent; sulfur dioxide decreased by 35 percent between 1962 and 1970. Similar trends can be found when it comes to water pollution

    There are a lot of examples of “evriro. Friendly” products, thusly pitched, being market successes, sometimes even at a higher price. Free enterprise can yeild a premium for a cleaner world.

    When the market answers consumer demand the results may be far more pristine then government mandated “pollution maximums”. Companies will compete against each other for “green patronage”. Look around; it’s happening all over and a low tax, low regulation environment will encourage more of it.

  11. “It’s just not reasonable to assume an absolute right to pollute.

    Of course not. Private property is the solution here. From Ron’s article:…people dump sewage into rivers or pump smoke into the air because no one “owns” a river or the air in a traditional sense. We might say that the public “owns” rivers and airsheds, but none of us individually has much of an incentive (or an ability) to stop others from emitting excessive pollutants. Such open-access commons are at the center of most instances of environmental problems today, from the deforestation of tropical rainforests to the potential loss of biodiversity to the depletion of open-sea fisheries.

  12. EcoDude:

    “It should come as no surprise to anyone that environmental regulations can be crafted primarily to benefit business.

    The real purpose of environmental regulations is often to harm competitive business concerns. One of the first big contributors to the Sierra Club was Exxon Oil.

    Why would this be? Because, Exxon sought more environmental regulations to limit domestic production of oil because more of Exxon’s holdings were foreign while their competition, such as Texaco, had more of their holdings state side.

  13. The main goal of the environmental movement is control. Paul Ehrlich was at the forefront of the prognosticators who, in the 1970s, confidently predicted global cooling was taking place. In fact in 1974, Ehrlich and his wife, Anne, warned that “global cooling” would catastrophically diminish agricultural output!

    But for these guys, global warming and global cooling are interchangeable and serve the same purpose. Either way, they both lend credence to the idea of a government forced change in the ways consumption and industrial production.

  14. “The environmental lobby appeals to government and its monopoly on force rather than persuasion to achieve their vision of control, and they have no compunctions about lying in order to get others to vote give up their own liberty!”

    dude, you just pretty much described every single fucking movement, group, cabal and corporation that’s ever existed.

    i mean, c’mon!

    contemporize, man!

  15. Rick Barton, do McCarthy’s actions delegitimize opposition to Soviet Communism?

    Making other people sick with your excreta is wrong. And even if those were Ted Bundy’s last words, it would still be wrong.

  16. Anyway, framing the question as a competition between prosperity and environmental quality is the ultimate 70s era scaremongering.

    Well, no, not really. There is *very* heavy overlap between the major “environmentalist” organizations and the major anti-capitalism organizations. The Green Party is the best example of this overlap, of course.

    Look at the Kyoto Treaty — as close to a shibboleth as the “environmental” movement has. Completely useless from a protect-the-environment perspective? Yes. Radically hostile to the American economy? Yes. Favored by Greenpeace? You betcha.

    Yes, it’s true that you can have effective, pro-environment policies without harming businesses or the economy. But I really get the impression that the average (for example) Greenpeace member just doesn’t count an environmental policy as “successful” unless some corporation takes it in the ass.

  17. Well done, Rick.

  18. Well done, Rick.

  19. We’re talking about two different things, Dan. I agree that some environmentalists use the cause as a stalking horse for anti-capitalism. But my comment was aimed at those who take on faith the obsolete notion that improvements in environmental quality come at the expense of increases in prosperity, and vice versa.

    When I lived outside of Washingington, I had a room mate who was a PhD and a right winger. One day after returing home, I commented that there was a thick brown goo clearly visible hovering over the city that day. His response? “That’s the color of progress.” Unfortunately, such a mindset is still common among most conservatives, in my experience.

  20. Speaking of doomsayers, did you know that we ban leaded gasoline, there will be no automobile manufacturing in the United States by 1975?

    Or was that requiring the installation of seatbelts?

    Anyway, framing the question as a competition between prosperity and environmental quality is the ultimate 70s era scaremongering. Capitalism has played a role in making the environment cleaner, and improvements in environmental quality brought about by regulation have helped tom make us more prosperous. That last thing we need are fanatics trying to sunder this relatively happy marriage.

  21. Rick barton, are you honestly suggesting making air be private property? You’re out of your gourd! (Don’t forget that people have a right to life. That includes air and water.)

  22. dhex,

    I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean“every single (political)movement, group, cabal…

    Well, those of the anti-tax, anti-regulation and anti-war variety, obviously don’t appeal to government and its monopoly on force rather than persuasion to achieve their visions, just the opposite.

    as to,… corporations ; some do indeed try to use the government to achieve what they cannot thru the market, (including pushing for environmental “protection” laws in order to harm their competition. see the post at April 23, 03:59 AM and also examples from: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg19n4b.html
    provided by, EcoDude)

    But, most corporations do not try to use the government to coercively foster their ends.

  23. p mac,

    No, but naturally regarding people’s bodies as their own property will achieve the same end.

    Yes, I am out of my gourd….What?

  24. joe,

    This advise to lie, coming from the top of the environmental movement should make us, at least, cautious when they predict disaster or call for more government regulation, or heap verbal excreta on those who dare to challenge their received wisdom, ala the Lomborg affair.

  25. Dan:

    “But I really get the impression that the average (for example) Greenpeace member just doesn’t count an environmental policy as “successful” unless some corporation takes it in the ass.”

    That corporations or whole classes of corporations “takes it in the ass” is often the real goal of environmental policy, and often comes at the behast of other corporations working thru environmental groups. (prosperity and living standards are “colateral damage”) see the post at April 23, 03:59 AM about the Sierra Club, Exxon Oil and Exxon’s competition. Also, from: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg19n4b.html
    This link is very strong!

    A classic example of environmental policy “by and for special interests” is the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments that mandated the use of scrubbers on coal-fired power plants. One book on the subject bears the subtitle How the Clean Air Act Became a Multibillion-Dollar Bail-Out for High-Sulfur Coal Producers and What Should Be Done About It.

    Ironically, the 1977 amendments extended the life of older, otherwise obsolete, coal-fired plants. By imposing scrubber requirements on all new coal plants, Congress made older plants relatively more cost-effective, delaying the environmental gains that would have been achieved by using and building modern, less-polluting facilities.

    The Alliance for Responsible Thermal Treatment (ARTT), an HWTC spinoff of incinerator operators, wants to prevent the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns, and thereby eliminate its members? toughest competitors.

    Major utilities recently lobbied to require the sale of electric vehicles in California and the northeastern United States and have sought policies that would subsidize the purchase of electric cars at the ratepayers? expense.

    The Business Council for a Sustainable Energy Future, a coalition of gas, wind, solar, and geo-thermal power producers and related firms, is lobbying for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

    A primary purpose of the Conservation Reserve Program is to increase farm commodity prices by taking acreage out of production, though the program does little to control agricultural runoff.

  26. joe,

    But my comment was aimed at those who take on faith the obsolete notion that improvements in environmental quality come at the expense of increases in prosperity, and vice versa.

    On the contrary, the evidence indicates that most often, improvements in environmental quality and increases in prosperity go hand in hand. This is a function of capitalism. It’s the wisdom of government regulation that is called into question by the evidence.

    Even from just a environmental quality concern, it seem that instead of government accepted levels of pollution via regulation, market pressure tends to produce much better results, even if you cared about nothing else, not prosperity or freedom.

    When the market answers and pushes consumer demand, the results may be far more pristine then government mandates. Companies will compete against each other for “green patronage”. Look around; it’s happening all over, and a low tax, low regulation environment will encourage more of it.

  27. Rick,

    Market-generated environmental improvement is a real phenomenon, no question. But in other areas, the actions of the market encourage environmental degradation. It is as silly to assume that markets always produce ecological benefits as to assume that they never do.

    And I often see large corporations lobbying for pro-market, anti-regulations causes, not out of genuine faith in that ideology, but because in a specific case, the elimination of a regulation or “distortion” would benefit their bottom line. Since you’re willing to make the leap of logic that delegitimizes environmentalist policies as a whole because corporations sometimes use the rhetoric to boost their profits, shall I assume that you are equally willing to make that leap of logic about market ideology?

  28. BTW, the link between economic progress and environmental protection is at the heart of the concept of “sustainable development,” development having formerly been a dirty word among environmentalists. The best arguments against environmentalism-as-opposition-to-economic-well-being come from the environmentalist left.

    Google “UN Sustainable Development Conference Brazil”

  29. joe:

    “It is as silly to assume that markets always produce ecological benefits as to assume that they never do.”

    I’m saying that they usually do, not always, but more importantly, markets allow environmental quality to be a consumer good. The less regulation and taxes, the more that this can take place.

    I agree that when corporations, large and small, lobby for the elimination of a regulation they most often do so under the prime motive of their bottom line. This is consistent with a free market ideology. Whereas, when corporations lobby for environmental regulation, or a subsidy for that matter, it runs contra that ideology.

    This phenomena is not what de-legitimizes environmentalist policies. I was just pointing out this link that gave examples of it happening:

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg19n4b.html

    btw, just so there is no confusion, when I said “This link is very strong”, that’s what I meant, I wasn’t referring to any logical “link”.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.