Conservative Ecology
Posted by aogWednesday, 07 May 2003 at 22:02 TrackBack Ping URL
Orrin Judd asks about the confluence of conservatism and ecology. I think all of his points are good ones that the conservative movement would do well (both politically and morally) to explicitly adopt. However, I want go off on a tangent to his points 4 (Conservation must be compatible with private property rights and human freedoms) and 5 (Distrust of large public works projects and commercial developments).

I've thought for a long time that the current Green movement, like the liberalism of which they are an offshoot, is in fact profoundly opposed to nature and the ecology. Just as liberals claim to be protecting liberty but all of their solutions reduce it, so do Greens claim to want to protect the environment but all of their policies leads to greater destruction.

One case in point, which is mentioned by OJ in his post, is the view that the conservative reaction to a spotted owl is to kill it. There is some truth to this but it is a direct result of Green policy, in particularly the Endangered Species Act. It is not that the owls themselves are bad, but because they have been given greater property rights than the legal owners of land in dispute there is a powerful incentive to ldquo;bury the problem”

In the large scheme, Green call for ever greater government control of property and society. Yet what we see is that it is free societies that are the best stewards of the planet and socialist / communist countries that are the worst. Nothing that's been done by the rapacious private corporations of America can hold a sooty candle to the devastation wrought by Communism in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. One might note that the only country in Africa that has a growing elephant population is the one that permits trade in ivory. Even the US it has been the government, not private interests, who have done the most ecological damage (think Rocky Flats). Even when it is private interests (such as overgrazing in the West or the water problems in California) one finds the hidden hand of government pushing (via laws or subsidies). As with most things, it is not that private interests are perfect custodians, just much better ones.

To a large extent this is because people acting in a private capacity are far more likely to look decades ahead (for their retirement or their children) than a politician is to look past the next election. Moreover, people don't foul their own nest whereas for government nothing is ever really the property of the person making the decision so there's no ties that bind the hands that act.

Now, I'm a minarchist, so I admit that there is a role for government and that's basically to internalize externalities. For instance, car pollution. This is an externality where your car polluting in effect robs me of my property (clean air in my yard). It's just not feasible to deal with this on a person to person basis (that's why it's called an externality). The government can serve here not by command and control (like CAFE) but by turning the externality into something internal to private actors. A classic example is pollution credits. If cars that pollute more cost more then people will work it out on their own. The government could determine the total carrying capacity for such pollution and then auction off the rights to generate that pollution. People who didn't like it could buy up the rights and just bury them. People who wanted big smoke spewing land cruisers would have to fork out, thereby supressing the demand for such things.

Finally, people like nature. Given the resources and the ability to act, people (in general, overall) will act to preserve the ecology (not, as OJ says, every blade of grass, but a good portion). If spotted owls didn't threaten land owners with expropriation there would probably be a lot less hostility.