Keeping Nature Exactly As Is…Forever

Once you decide nature is inherently healthy, moral and beautiful, the reasons to restrict human activity are endless.


The human brain is torn between simple intuition and the more complex hard work of figuring out the unintended consequences of any policy. Who doesn't like thinking about trees and greenery and happy animals? Who doesn't want to see steps taken to protect those things, all else being equal? But all else is not equal. Civilization doesn't work when central planners treat each tree as if its value is infinite.

Politicians specialize in convincing you that, with their help, you can have your cake and eat it, too. The idea of a new "green economy" that is both clean and rich with jobs became popular under Bill Clinton's administration, thanks in large part to a compliant media and Vice President Al Gore. But as I point out in my new book, No, They Can't: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed, anyone who understands economics knows that President Obama's green jobs initiative is snake oil.

Obama boasted that his $2.3 billion plan would "help close the clean-energy gap between America and other nations." But other nations now move in the opposite direction. "Countries are cutting these programs because they realize they aren't sustainable and they are obscenely expensive," says the American Enterprise Institute's Kenneth P. Green. In Spain, economists at La Universidad Rey Juan Carlos found that each "green" job cost more than $750,000.

Obama claims that if we "invest" more, we can "create millions of jobs—but only if we accelerate the "green transition." What could make more sense? A little push from the smart politicians, and—voila!—an abundance of new jobs and a cleaner, sustainable environment. It's the ultimate twofer. Except it's an illusion, because governments do not "create" jobs.

"All the government can do is subsidize some industries while jacking up costs for others," writes Green. "It is destroying jobs in the conventional energy sector—and most likely in other industrial sectors—through taxes and subsidies to new green companies that will use taxpayer dollars to undercut the competition. The subsidized jobs 'created' are, by definition, less efficient uses of capital than market-created jobs."

This is good, solid economic thinking. Many years ago, Henry Hazlitt wrote in his bestseller, Economics in One Lesson, "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

In judging any government initiative, you can't look just at the credit side of the ledger. Government is unable to give without first taking away. Inevitably, more is taken away because the government substitutes force for free exchange. Instead of a process driven by consumers weighing their preferences, we get one imposed by politicians' grand social designs, what F.A. Hayek called "the fatal conceit." The green schemes make energy cost more.

Of course, some who push "green jobs" want the price of energy to rise. Then we will live in smaller homes, drive less and burn fewer fossil fuels. But if the environmental lobby wants Americans to be poorer, it ought to come clean about that.

Once you decide nature is inherently healthy, moral and beautiful, the reasons to restrict human activity are endless. Every time we move or breathe, we alter the environment. Some environmentalists won't be satisfied until our carbon footprint is reduced to zero.

Of course, that requires abolishing civilization. But if humanity's impact on nature is an evil, abolishing us wouldn't be so bad. The group Earth First! had the slogan, "Back to the Pleistocene!"

Most of us don't think civilization is evil, but we worry about what environmentalists say. We don't have the time to do complicated calculations about economic trade-offs. It's easier to just recycle something, buy a Prius and donate to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Today, we put up with amazing intrusions in the name of environmentalism. A million petty regulations mandate surtaxes on gas, separation of garbage into multiple bins, special light bulbs, taxes on plastic bags and so on.

Yet these things are of so little ecological consequence that the Earth will never notice. For this, we must surrender our freedom?

John Stossel (read his Reason archive) is the host of Stossel, which airs Thursdays on the FOX Business Network at 9 pm ET and is rebroadcast on Saturdays and Sundays at 9pm & midnight ET. Go here for more info.

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  1. “Humans are a blight on galactic purity. You sir! You are a blight! And you! And you, human. And you.”

  2. You should check that link to your book, John. It takes me to a Diderot Admin login page.

  3. ooh i know, we should ALWAYS trust teh [CORPORATIONZ] to do what’s best like at love canal, times beach MO, & the deepwater horizon…which killed 11 americans. >clean water & air is for the birds!

    1. I see you have discovered that when you argue against something that no one is actually arguing, you win every time.

      It’s otherwise known as a straw man.

      1. 11 dead americans aint a strawman

        1. “we should ALWAYS trust teh [CORPORATIONZ] to do what’s best” is

          1. its most unbecoming to see the stupid drain fm ur ears like that

            1. Thanks for bringing your unique brand of stupid to the party, as always, Urine! You are indeed one dumb motherfucker who can always be counted on to bring the weapons-grade derp.

              And you delivered again. Like Dominos Pizza you are.

              Happy Thursday, Urine!

            2. Wow you are going crazy.

              Kitchen Stoves kill more people than corporations, that’s how life is buddy.

              You want to live in a Socialist bubble of even more poverty and death. Relax dude.

              1. Kitchen Stoves kill more people than corporations

                Even when it was the bears, I knew it was the stoves.

        2. More people get killed every day by government for taking drugs. But then again you are making a strawman, nobody here has ever claimed they ALWAYS trust corporations, except for YOU.

    2. You should read up on Love Canal. That property was misused by the government in spite of all sorts of warnings and offers from the company.

    3. I personally trust governments, those death tolls that are counted in the millions are a myth created by the corporations.

      1. which is why we have regs for them too

        1. Again with the worlds dumbest comment.

          1. Amazing how he consistently manages to top himself on that front.

        2. The lovely thing about the government is that it can ignore the regulations placed on it, should it choose, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it (see: Constitution, the).

        3. Really? You can make up a regulation and force government to comply with it? And not get labelled a terrorist? And SWAT won’t come?

          I’m glad I’m not your dog.

    4. O3, Let’s set the record straight here. The Love Canal, NY incident was one place where the corporation involved acted as responsibly as they could.

      The company, Hooker Chemical (start snickering over Hooker and the Love Canal and get it over with – this is Serious Stuff here!) resisted attempts of a local government to sell the property and only did so under threat of Eminent Domain. The government then completely ignored the warnings given to them by the company. Sometimes corporations DO act responsibly.

      1. For that matter:

        times beach MO,

        Which happened because a local government sprayed waste oil containing PCBs onto local roads as a dust control measure. The oil in question had been disposed of in keeping with existing protocols, not just “dumped” somewhere.

        And a review of the matter a few years later showed that the PCBs in question were not nearly as dangerous as thought.

        the deepwater horizon…which killed 11 americans

        That might be relevant to safety regulation, but I fail to see how those deaths were an environmntal matter.

        If you want to point the oil spill, you would have to actually point out how deficient regulations were responsible.

        Typical sloppy simplistic O3 commenting here. My how it wants attention.

    5. the biggest polluters on the planet are governments, yet you’d trust them to do the right thing.

    6. Thankfully, we can ALWAYS trust teh [GUBMINT] to do what’s best. Because teh [GUBMINT] always acts purely altruistically.

  4. The group Earth First! had the slogan, “Back to the Pleistocene!”

    I miss my old t-shirt emblazoned with EARTH FIRST! We’ll strip mine the other planets later.

    1. I love how I had to replace the directional quotes from the article before it would stop complaining I had a 50+ character word in my post.

      1. Yes, I received that error yesterday. The software doesn’t like you quoting Reason.

  5. The correct link for John’s book is John probably wont give me a free book for giving it out, but I will give the rest of you this:…..500-28.jpg

    1. That part of Earth Day I can get behind.

  6. Stossel utterly annihilated that strawman. Well met.

  7. “But if a butterfly flaps (or isn’t around to flap) its wings in the Amazon rainforest, it affects the weather in Tulsa, OK.”
    So those 2,300 wind turbines, each 250 ft. tall with 100 foot blades, turning in central Texas must be really weather-disruptive. Dismantle them all, NOW!

  8. Green energy subsidies are the ultimate political boon.

    All one needs do is recognize the existing trend toward energy alternatives. By creating subsidies for “green energy” you automatically get to lay claim to any tech that follows, whether as a result of the subsidies or not. If technologies are slow to develop, you can blame your political opponents for not supporting you enough.

    At the same time you get to pass out cash to your well-connected political cronies. As a side bonus you also get to hold threats over the heads of traditional energy companies to whip them in to line. Win-win-win-win baby!

    1. Green energy subsidies are the ultimate political boon.

      Nope. High speed rail is. Come to California and see.

  9. The most pathetic thing is that there are tons of leftists in Spain that still blame their problems on the corporations. The fact that a socialist government was in charge for the last 10 years, massive investments into the green technology myth and generous welfare handouts, never seems to register as a problem.

    1. Ideology is the mind killer.

    2. Even they will bow before austerity measures.

  10. In judging any government initiative, you can’t look just at the credit side of the ledger.

    You can if you’re a lefttard.

    Government is unable to give without first taking away.

    Yeah, but the rich can handle it. I mean, they’re rich, right? As long as they remain rich then they have more to take, er, give!

    Inevitably, more is taken away because the government substitutes force for free exchange.

    But, but, but… Intentions!

  11. I didn’t read the article. Sorry but I know Stossels style too well to really need to know what he said. First, the title of the article indicates that Stoz wants to propagate the tired old myth that all environmentalists are Luddites who want all of humanity back to the stone age. Next, he’ll have us believe that Corporations (who are known to spend decades and millions on legal fees trying to weasel out of responsibility) really require no oversight. I shouldn’t be surprised if the old trope “Rachel Carson is a worse mass-murderer that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot” is in there.

    The environment is where we live, guys. It should be something of a priority. Reducing industrial activity a little will not put us into the stone-age and keeping things clean is to our selfish benefit.

    1. Next, he’ll have us believe that Corporations (who are known to spend decades and millions on legal fees trying to weasel out of responsibility) really require no oversight.

      If you read his columns or watched his show you would know that that is not the case.

      But I guess it’s easier to argue against men of straw than against what someone actually says.

      1. Susan knows what Stossel says without bothering to read what he actually writes or listen to what he actually says.

        she’s clearly a top man person that should be directly the lives of us less omniscient saps.

        1. Should be:

          She’s clearly a top man that should be directing the lives of us less omniscient saps.

        2. Yes I am


          1. Team Blue much, Susan?

            1. Ya got me. Now that you have my armies of minions dressed in Birkenstocks and Che t-shirts will be stymied in their attempts to take away your electric leaf-blower and naked-lady neon lamp.

    2. You want a clean environment,you need to improve the culture of property rights and improve peoples wealth.

      Since the majority of the green crusaders don’t want that, your best bet hope is capitalism, not politicians who have zero understandin of the technologies they are selling.

      1. Wealth not poverty.

    3. Next thing you know, Susan is shocked to see the price of energy quintuple.

      It is amazing how quickly the Left wants us to become poor.

      1. No sane person argues for an overnight change over. That would cause the huge, poverty-causing disruption.

        “Poor” is a value judgement. I, for example, am in no danger of hanging out with Donald Trump anytime soon but by my value systems (which I do try to persuade – not ever force – others to share) I am as wealthy as The Donald. Perhaps we’re talking at cross-purposes here, though. Define what you think of as poor.

        1. Your Keynesian budgets make us poor, Poverty is a far more important issue than imaginary deaths from global warming. I don’t even deny climate change but using the IPCC’s own studies completely shreds apart your entire arguments.

          Spain already ravaged you, it is time you took a lesson from then. The Central planners are just human, and the difference between the government and business is force. Government never goes bankrupt, bad businesses do.

          You’ll always lose these arguments because we continue to invest poorly.

          1. Well, now I see what you mean. But answer another one or two. Do you think things can be sustained? How long can the situation last as it is?

            1. Things can be sustained, you only need some reasonable and limited regulations for common resources. But on private property we already have the perfect system.

              Whenever we privatize parts of rain forest, or other wild environments, we see the population of endangered animals go UP. Animals become endangered in public areas with no property rights.

    4. Many straw persons in Susan’s comments.

      1. Employing straw men is my contribution to capitalism. They’re even cheaper than Mexicans.

        1. Well, you seem to have an army of them.

          1. Well, in the years since Ayn Rand died so many are looking for work. Even El Stozzarino, the lovely Kennedy and Ron Paul can’t employ them all. I’m making my contribution.

  12. Stossel you should come up to Vermont where the greenest of America’s socialist live. They are against Wind power (BIG WIND they are starting to call it, not kidding), hydro power and now even solar proposals are drawing ire. Can’t make this shit up.

    1. What do they want instead ?

        1. I tried to paste a good quote but the software won’t let me post it here.

          1. Copy the quote into notepad, and then onto here. That usually works. :O

        2. Socialism blows. 😉

        3. even as proponents advocate for sacrifice in the face of climate change, residents near these projects are begging, “Don’t sacrifice us.”

          It’s either NIMBY or BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything/Anyone).

      1. Bicycling? I seem to remember peddling like hell at the science museum to make a light bulb glow. Think of the possibilities if all of us stopped working and start peddling!

        1. 60watts. That’s how much work a typical human can produce on a bike.

          Pretty shitty output for the 2,000kcal/day of fuel-input.

          1. That’s partly because the brain gobbles up a pretty constant 20% of the energy input, regardless of one’s IQ.

      2. > What do they want instead ?

        The Stone Age? I read an article that said wind power heats up the ground under the windmills at night.

        1. I read an article that said wind power heats up the ground under the windmills at night.

          That kinda makes sense. Wouldn’t harnessing the airflow above a piece of ground affect the convective heat loss?

    2. They’re against Big Wind??? I’m guessing there are no Mexican restaurants in Vermont.

    3. I think he’ll pass (understandably).

      I think he’d rather go to Colombia.

  13. …the tired old myth that all environmentalists are Luddites who want all of humanity back to the stone age.

    And your evidence contrary to this claim is…?

  14. Environmentalism as an “ism” is nothing more than a particularly dour and stupid form of pseudo-religion.

    The human mind inherently seeks a “greater organizational construct” and is capable of inventing all types of nonsense in the pursuit of one.

    Self-loathing is a common feature of many religions, including environmentalism. Emotional self-flagellation feels *good* to the ardent environmentalist, so don’t even bother arguing.

    Actual environmental problems are more along the lines of public health issues and do not require us to “save the planet,” as it were.

    1. “Self-loathing is a common feature of many religions, including environmentalism.”
      As is the myth of a pristine, ‘golden age’ in the distant past.

  15. Emotional self-flagellation feels *good* to the ardent environmentalist, so don’t even bother arguing.

    Someone used the expression “emotional hemophiliacs” the other day and I found it very apt.

  16. Pollution has never been a problem free markets have been able to solve alone. The reason is simple: the costs are not factored in unless someone forces them to be. Any belief otherwise is magical thinking.

    1. T o n y|5.3.12 @ 12:29PM|#
      “The reason is simple:…”
      Shithead, that’s a lie. But given it’s shithead posting, there’s no reason to expect otherwise.

      1. How nice it must be to see the world through an ideological lens such that inconvenient facts are able to be discarded.

        No one is born into this world thinking Jesus is Lord or “markets solve everything.” These things must be taught.

        If you’re going to whip out your usual strawman accusation, then we must agree that markets don’t solve everything, and thus an obvious candidate for something that markets don’t solve is environmental damage.

        1. He’s saying the government has failed (like it usually does), to micromanage our lives. It is not possible anyway.

          1. “How nice it must be to see the world through an ideological lens”

            You have no room to talk there, Tony.

    2. Property rights easily solves all pollution.

      Pollution occurs in common access areas, where the GOVERNMENT has all the power. Such as the Ocean or Air.

      Tragedy of the commons.

      1. So who gets to claim ownership of the oceans and the atmosphere?

        1. You impose a property tax and allow interested people to personalize the commons. Otherwise you need very smart central planners to manage our entire atmosphere or ocean, and that’s scary.

          Then, if my obnoxious pollution gets in the air I will be in a heap of trouble.

          1. Think of it like a Private bathroom, versus a public bathroom. You know which one you’d rather be in.

            1. Omg I still have nightmares about those public high school toilets.

          2. That really doesn’t solve international commons.

            1. Well we are not going to fight wars with countries over their pollution. We need central planners to manage the rest of the commons, for now.

              Those artificial Islands some Libertarians keep talking about, could be part of the solution too.

              1. Also governments will allow you to buy parcels of the commons, even if you are in some remote area.

    3. “Environmentalism”, as used in the context of this post, goes far beyond having laws in place to prevent people from dumping harmful pollutants onto your property or into the commons.

      1. That seems to be the trend we are heading in. The EPA was recently told to stop taking people’s homes without due process. Nanny state freaks.

        Their are fewer checks and balances on government force.

  17. Mr. Stossel-
    I’m a little confused by your thesis. Is your argument that government regulation negatively impacts market-created jobs? So environmental regulation, or subsidies that promote green jobs, are neutral at best, or actively destroying industry? Because the free market is very poor at properly valuing negative externalities, especially on the large scale. There is no incentive for an industry to reduce pollution in the absence of strict accountability and presence of massive dilution. A prime example is mercury content in fish. In this case, it is very important to restore the natural state of fish (ie, not having any mercury in fish). There are obvious health benefits, and huge costs that are subsidized by the lack of proper regulation and enforcement. Whether such restrictions destroy jobs is a rather myopic interpretation of what sustainable job creation actually involves.

    1. what sustainable job creation actually involves

      Hot air?

    2. If by “negative externalities” you mean “anything I don’t approve of” then, yes, “the free market is very poor at properly valuing” them.

      If you mean “things that are actually harmful” it does better if it actually is a free market. As has been repeated ad infinitum here, remove the subsidies etc…

      I think the number of people who actually oppose laws that are the functional equivalent of “you can’t dump a bucket of shit/cyanide/mercury/etc over the fence onto someone else’s property” is quite small.

      But that’s a far cry from restoring the world to someone utopian idyl of an unspoiled natural environment.

      1. Incidentally, with regard to mercury, much of the damage was done long before anyone understood the longterm ramifications of disposing of even small quantities of mercury.

        Over the years we have done remarkably well at reducing the point sources of mercury contamination and that improvement should be ongoing.

        And yes, it’s true those efforts have involved government controls.

        But as I see it in the end this argument is not between sides saying eithrt there should or there should not be regulations.

        It is between one side saying that regulations need to be responsive to actial harms versus a side saying that ther should be no limits at all to government’s power to interfere in private activity.

        1. Oh I totally agree there needs to be a balancing act. Moreover, I would even agree that MOST of the time the government is going to use resources less effectively than the private sector. But that’s different than saying the private sector is ALWAYS more efficient.

          1. Yes, but it still is to some extent the difference between saying “we have made a law against murder and we will punish you if you break it” and saying “we have to monitor your every activity to make sure you don’t murder anyone.”

          2. Well you’re wrong, the Private Sector does everything better when it comes to the environment.

            The only thing the Government needs to do is PROTECT private property rights, and prevent people from polluting your property without consent.

            1. The Government has proven again and again that they can not manage the commons. Every other sector of our economy has reasonable cleanliness.

      2. It’s also kind of worth noting that the free market is also poor at properly valuing positive externalities.

        It is hard to quantify exactly the improvement in living standards created by electric power, for example.

        1. This is true, I think it’s one of the arguments for state funded education (although not for public schools).

          Basically educated people help grow the economy and are less likely to steal your shit.

          1. A very poor argument, since private schools do better and people should be able to pursue BAD jobs that don’t pay well, as long as it makes them happy.

    3. Because tort and criminal law are inadequate for assigning liability in cases where actual, provable harm took place? The difference between a libertarian and an environmentalist is that the libertarian would wait until actual damage had been caused to hold someone liable for it. The environmentalist is content with the hypothetical possibility that damage *could*, *potentially* EVER occur to shutter an entire industry. Sacrifices must be made on the altar of Gaia.

      1. They’re like Tree hugging versions of the neocons.

    4. Shit, Hank… just come out of the Team Blue closet already.

  18. I shouldn’t be surprised if the old trope “Rachel Carson is a worse mass-murderer that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot” is in there.

    I’m pretty sure that if anyone ever used that they did not mean it literally. I’m sure they were employing the literary device of hyperbole, which is as some of us know using exaggeration for the puprpose of emphasizing or reinforcing a point.

    Regardless of whether or not that statement is literally true, the fact remains that the book she’s famous for writing is a crock of shit.


      They don’t claim anymore that insecticides cause cancer: now it’s “[t]he brains of the kids with high exposure were more likely to have certain enlarged structures in the brain. They also had thinning in some parts of the brain.”

      Oh noes, the brainz of the childrunz!

      1. Seems to me that liberals would *want* children to be brain-damaged, as it’s much easier to herd them than when they have notions of self-awareness and the dreaded individualism.

        1. Which reminds me… Tony posted upthread.

  19. Coach Hazlitt was right. A broken window in Charlie’s house creates maybe $100 for the window maker, and maybe $100 pay for the window installer, but costs

    $200 cash and $100 lost productive time for Charlie,

    $200 that Charlie would have paid to the butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, or into his retirement fund,

    but also drives up the cost of windows and window installer service, diverting them from work on NEW CONSTRUCTION to work on REPAIR.

    The new Obama economy is one gigantic $10T broken window.

    We are now all working to REPAIR damage (lost value of assets, lost wages, lost quality) he caused by deterring investment, preventing the energy industry from expanding, and imposing new healthcare mandates that threaten to kill the private healthcare industry entirely.

    Whoever doesn’t go out in November and vote down the biggest parasite on the world economy since Hitler, and his stormtroopers in Congress and in state govt, deserves tyranny and misery.

  20. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Six Times More Than Renewable Energy:…..y-iea.html

    That’s a link to, so it’s hardly anti-civilization propaganda.

    If we’re going to advocate letting consumers and the free market decide on energy, the real invisible hand to be concerned with are oil subsidies. Being so focused on green subsidies and completely ignoring fossil fuel subsidies is like being angry at finding a dead rat in your soup because the rat might have dirt under its nails.

    1. Fossil-fuel consumers worldwide received about six times more government subsidies than were given to the renewable-energy industry

      Most of the govt. subsidies of fossil fuel happens outside of North-America (or Europe, for that matter); most of the govt. subsidies happen in North-America (or Europe).

      1. most of the govt. subsidies for renewable energy industry happen in North-America (or Europe).

        1. Fossil Fuels get 100 times the subsidies in the States, when adjusted for unit of energy.

          Fossil > Spinach.

          1. That should say: “Renewable energy gets 100 times the subsidies

  21. Spoiler alert: John pulls out his regulations fort.

  22. Asness just asked Stoss if he was a libertarian.

  23. REGULATIONS CAN’T STOP FINANCIAL FRAUD? How dare he make such a claim.

  24. Dodd-Frank did exactly what it was supposed to do, pick winners and losers.

  25. I hope that “No They Can’t” sign prop isn’t replacing the giant novelty scissors.

  26. The bureaucracy will not brook any facts introduced into the system.

  27. Sounds like the pool chair lift lobby bit off more than it could chew.

  28. Whalen and Asness. Sounds like a buddy cop film.

    “They’ll wale on your ass, because this time it’s personal!”

  29. Ignorance of the obscure and counter-intuitive regulation is no excuse.

  30. “I don’t believe under any circumstance would any police officer view this as [anything but] a toy gun.”

    Wouldn’t necessarily stop the real bullets from flying, though.

  31. The arbitrary judgment is the backbone of modern bureaucracy.

  32. Regulations require that every person knows the phone number on the missing sign. Duh.

  33. The president ain’t working on shit, unless you count his campaign.

  34. Mike Lee’s old man droning on and on about the Constitution? Sounds like mealtime was a hoot at the Lee house.

  35. Regulators insulate Congress from the blame for the terrible outcomes of the bureaucracy.

  36. Ha, Stoss calls Lee impotent on his way to commercial break.

  37. I’ll wait to see Free Market America’s Ryan naked and jacking it in San Diego.

  38. Although I’m still not sure he’s not Reverend Steve Newlin.

  39. Is this Vonage commercial trying to get me ready for postnatal abortion?

  40. Anti-energy environmentalists hate poor people.

  41. Spotted owls are leaving the job market.

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