Friday, March 09, 2007

ENVIRONMENTALISM

The problem I have with environmentalists is that their arguments always seem to put the environment before people and depict people as the problem rather than the solution. The trees, the coral reefs are sacred while we, the people, deserve the sacrificing of our homes, our standard of living, our livelihoods and for some extremists, our lives.

What environmentalists seem to ignore is that people (yes, people) find value in being clean. People value the attractiveness of a clean personal appearance, the comfort of a clean home for their children and guests and the higher revenues of a clean business area that attracts customers away from the competition. Being clean is not only good, it can also be profitable!

But food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof to shield you from the elements trump cleanliness any day. Which is why poor countries are always dirtier than their richer, more wealthier counterparts. It’s not that poor countries have plenty of resources to throw wastefully around on their streets, in their gutters and into the coral reefs, but that they don’t have the resources for something that is simply not their priority at the moment.

When people can afford to spend more than on their priorities of food, clothing and shelter, they buy the more expensive car that emits less unattractive smog from the rear of their vehicles. They buy the more expensive light bulb that uses less energy to illuminate their homes and chase away the dark. It’s in people’s self interest to be clean, but they personally have to balance that luxury with their own circumstances. Unfortunately, environmentalists and the ASG always seem to put the cart before the horse when comes to this issue.

Economist Ronald Coase won the Nobel Prize for his work demonstrating that pollution is more of a problem of undefined property rights. When something is owned by no one or owned by everyone, it usually falls into disrepair. When no one owns something, who is to be held responsible for its maintenance? And when everyone owns something, what’s the incentive for one person or group to sacrifice their blood, sweat and tears only for others to reap the rewards and trash the area again and again?

The Coase Theorem laid the groundwork for the emissions market in the U.S. , where the government sets caps for different gases emitted by businesses. Companies that need to emit more than their limit allows could buy other businesses’ caps if those other businesses need not exhaust as much or have found ways to reduce their own emissions. The caps set by government took something that was being treated like common property (the atmosphere) and defined out of it private property for which businesses could trade and be compensated for.

Such a policy forces us to factor in the costs of the by-products of our activities into market prices, as should be the case. We should be paying for the real costs of the proper disposal of our waste, from the garbage pickup to the landfills. And if the ASG would only get its butt out of the way, businesses would rise to make a profit for such services, and we’ll see the efficiency of the private sector improve our environment. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Whenever we go on these populist campaigns, we should always be mindful of the importance, value and rights of the individual. When we lose that focus, the argument goes from protecting the environment to sacrificing our homes to abandoning our pursuits of happiness to bashing our foreign brothers who do nothing but make an honest living providing us with choices in goods and services essential to our standard of living.

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