Earth Day Organizers Ignore Free-Market Successes

Today is Earth Day. Most observances will be used by organizers to promote a bigger government that puts more control of property and production into the hands of bureaucrats.

In an interview with Bill Sayre’s “Common Sense Radio” on WDEV-Radio Vermont, National Center Senior Fellow R.J. Smith promoted the much more successful alternative of “free market environmentalism.”

R.J., who headed a local chapter of the Audubon Society in New Jersey at the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, said his belief in the importance of private conservation efforts were galvanized after seeing the environmental activists of that era. Those radicals – who, by no coincidence, made Earth Day the same day as former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin’s birthday – insisted that capitalism was destroying the environment.

By ignoring free-market approaches to environmental stewardship, R.J. realized, these people are “lead[ing] us down a very wrong road.”

Unfortunately, for the most past, this mindset has not changed among the green establishment.

In defining free market environmentalism, which R.J. explained a long tradition around the world of successfully preserving the environment while also allowing for multiple uses of it, he said:

It is the use of institutions of a free society – particularly of property rights, but also of markets and prices – to protect the environment instead of the use of government force and socialist ownership.

Making a strong case for the important of private property rights, R.J. added:

People who own things have extraordinary incentives to husband them, take care of them, to manage them well, to use them sustainably so they have them today, tomorrow, ten years from now. And have them to pass down to their children and their childrens’ children.

To make his point, R.J. suggested people consider how they treat their own car as opposed to a rental, or how much they might put themselves at risk to save a house they owned versus one they leased.

When it comes to the bigger picture of management of the Earth, it’s not much different. R.J. and Sayre discussed – with plenty of examples – how private stewardship has produced better results for the environment in cases of:

  • Forestry
  • Hunting and fishing
  • Wildlife habitats

One example of how private conservation efforts provide a public good with an uncoerced private expense is when duck clubs create preserves for their members that benefit many more animals than ducks:

The duck club isn’t buying up and saving all that land because it wants to hunt these [other animals]. It wants to hunt the ducks that come through. And, in the process of doing so, they are saving all that habitat at private expense. All the other species, who are essentially free riders because [the duck club] doesn’t care that [they are also using the land]. And they take great pride in the fact that they have all these species that are thriving successfully on their own land.

This has also allowed for the rehabilitation of many species threatened with extinction. With the government, conservation efforts usually come with the heavy hand of stringent restrictions, heavy-handed enforcement and no multiple uses of land.

To listen to R.J. entire “Common Sense Radio” interview on Earth Day, click below.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.