These days, it seems everyone is an environmentalist. No one wants to breath bad air, drink polluted water or kill off all of the wildlife and plant life and despoil the planet. Where the argument comes in is how to protect the environment in the most sensible, cost effective way. Certainly here in Southeast Volusia, we have some of nature's greatest wonders -- from manatees to Mosquito Lagoon.
I believe that the principles of free market capitalism form the soundest basis for protecting the environment.
Meanwhile many people believe in using various forms of big government action to protect the environment.
There are four pillars of free market environmentalism: Property rights, market forces, cost benefit analysis and sound science.
The first thing people here should recognize is that most everything that is being polluted, over used or otherwise ruined do not belong to anyone.
People generally walk their dogs in the park not other people’s yards. Cows and chickens are not on any endangered list while bison and some song birds are on the endangered list.
The difference being that the former are usually owned while the latter are usually not. In general rivers, streams and lakes that are in the public domain are the ones that suffer pollution.
In the former communist countries where everything was owned by the government the levels of pollution are still way above anything we see here.
In passing, it should be noted that forests that are burning are much more likely to be under government control than private. Therefore, the first step in improving environmental protection is the development of ownership rights. With the proper incentives ingenious ways will be found to develop property rights to protect things.
For example, by establishing treaties on who owns which portions of the fish in the sea progress is being made on the over fishing problem. Barbed wire was developed to allow farmers and ranchers to protect their property rights. The list goes on.
In Florida, the answer to the water problem involves defining who owns which sources of water and then letting the owners develop a market for the water. When this was done in California some farmers discovered that they were much better off selling their water to someone who really needed it than trying to grow crops for people who didn’t need them so much.
After ownership comes the use of market forces to solve pollution problems. When pollution is discovered the pollution should be tracked to its’ source and costs of cleanup levied directly at the perpetrator.
In this way the ones doing the polluting will be financially motivated to find ways to reduce or eliminate the pollution.
Furthermore, the costs of the clean up are passed on to the customers of the pollution source.
This spawns competition to reduce pollution and creates a pollution control industry.
Pollution control is one place where good science and cost benefit analysis come into play.
It makes no sense to spend huge amounts of resources to eliminate something that is not causing a lot of harm when the same resources used elsewhere could prevent something that is very harmful.
Good science comes into play both in determining how much harm pollutants are doing and also in finding good ways to reduce pollution.
Government should resist the temptation to mandate particular solutions to pollution problems as these mandates tend to stop technical progress and lock us into solutions that often become outdated and inefficient.
My argument with some so-called environmentalists is that they are governed by ideology rather than a rational desire to clean up the earth.
I sometimes even see efforts to destroy capitalism without any rational expectation for accomplishing anything positive in the process.
Global warming is an issue in point.
Great efforts are being made to get us to sign on to the Kyoto Treaty which would create hundreds of billions of cost, impede the economy and cause more hardship for the world’s poor while delivering results that are hard to even measure.
Our politicians have been cajoled and bribed by big Agribusinesses such as Archer Daniels Midland into mandating and subsidizing the use of ethanol.
Any rational analysis of the use of ethanol shows there can be no advantage of any kind in using it especially since it takes about a gallon of gas to make a gallon of ethanol.
The two results of this effort so far are enrichment of the Agribusiness and creation of hunger in third world countries.
On top of this ethanol must be subsidized and is hard on any car not designed to use it.
Free market principles lead us to the best way to go to protect our environment.
Unfortunately, there are many people out there who don’t get it or have another agenda in mind.