New Environmentalism

Studies | Environment

No. 201
Wednesday, January 01, 1997
by Lynn Scarlett


1 Gregg Easterbrook, A Moment on Earth (New York: Viking, 1995). See also William Rosenberg, "Our Air Is Getting Cleaner," presentation at Inside Washington Publishers Conference, The Clean Air Act: Market-Based Approaches to the New Statute, Arlington, VA, October 27, 1992.

2 Marla Cone, "Southland Smog Levels Are Lowest in Four Decades," Los Angeles Times, Part A, October 21, 1995, p. 1.

3 Easterbrook, A Moment on Earth.

4 "How Clean Is Clean?" First Phase Report (Washington, DC: National Environmental Policy Institute, 1995).

5 Dale W. Jorgenson and Peter J. Wilcoxen, "Intertemporal General Equilibrium Modeling of U.S. Environmental Regulation," Journal of Policy Modeling 12, Winter 1990, p. 717.

6 John D. Graham, "Comparing Opportunities to Reduce Health Risks: Toxin Control, Medicine and Injury Prevention," National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA Policy Report No. 192, June 1995.

7 See Kent Jeffreys, "Progressive Environmentalism: Principles for Regulatory Reform," National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA Policy Report No. 194, June 1995, pp. 2-4.

8 Richard Stroup and John Baden, Natural Resources: Bureaucratic Myths and Environmental Management (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1983); Terry Anderson and Donald Leal, Free Market Environmentalism (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1991); Walter Block, ed., Economics and the Environment: A Reconciliation (Vancouver, BC: Fraser Institute, 1990); Alston Chase, Playing God in Yellowstone (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986); Bruce Yandle, ed., Land Rights: The 1990s Property Rights Rebellion (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995); Yandle, The Political Limits of Environmental Regulation (New York: Quorum Books, 1989); and Joseph L. Bast, Peter J. Hill and Richard C. Rue, Eco-Society, A Common Sense Guide to Environmentalism (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1994).

9 As author Gregg Easterbrook has cautioned, "There exists a wide range of human actions careless, selfish or destructive to the environment." See Easterbrook, A Moment on Earth, p. xix.

10 "Naturists" as used here refers to the nonscience-oriented, emotive environmentalists.

11 For example, in this model, ecosystems, absent human intervention, tend toward balance and stability over time.

12 In recent years, the mistrust is being replaced by such ideas as "growth within limits" or sustainable development, but the emphasis is still on limits rather than dynamic entrepreneurship.

13 Gus diZerega writes that "new or organismic views of ecology do not attempt to reduce the natural world to any single set of standards. They instead focus on the incredible intricacy of environmental relationships...and the extraordinary creativity of evolutionary processes." See diZerega, "Unexpected Harmonies: Self-Organizing Liberal Modernity and Ecology," Trumpeter 10, Winter 1993, p. 28.

14 This is true of the complex interactions of human activity with ecosystems, the web of effects set in motion by each resource-use decision and the risks and benefits associated with each production, consumption and disposal choice.

15 See Friedrich A. Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," American Economic Review 35, 4 September 1945, pp. 519-30.

16 See Robert Worcester's discussion of Abraham Maslow's work as it relates to environmentalism in "Business & the Environment: The Predictable Shock of Brent Spar," presentation to The Prince of Wales's Business & The Environment Programme, University of Cambridge Programme for Industry, Cambridge, England, September 18, 1995.

17 Ibid., p. 18.

18 Ibid., p. 15.

19 For example, in Kassel, Germany, city officials passed a tax on all disposable packaging at fast food establishments. The tax forced many restaurants to switch to reusable service ware. Restaurants were not able to balance any potential health and safety trade-offs against the possible advantages of waste reduction. Instead, the decision became a unidimensional one, with waste reduction eclipsing all other concerns as a result of the high packaging tax.

20 See Jane S. Shaw and Richard L. Stroup, "Should We Worry About Ozone?" National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA Policy Report No. 191, June 1995, pp. 14-16.

21 In one sense, all values are noneconomic values. Economist Thomas Sowell points out that "the most widespread misunderstanding of economics is that it applies solely to financial transactions," which leads to statements that some values are not economic ones. To this comment, Sowell responds that, indeed, "there are only noneconomic values. Economics is not a value itself but merely a method of trading off one value against another." Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions (New York: Basic Books, 1980).

22 This concept has been developed by Bruce Lippke and others at the University of Washington in Seattle. See Bruce Lippke, "Incentives for Managing Landscapes to Meet Non-Timber Goals," presented at the Environmental Economics Conference, Banff, Alberta, Canada, October 1994.

23 Even in markets, individuals are never fully sovereign. Consider the thermostat setting in a room. I may prefer a 60 degree setting; you may prefer 70 degrees. We cannot simultaneously have both. Usually, the decision about temperature setting is made by a building owner, a building manager or a tenant. The rest of us must accept the resulting temperature.

24 Sowell summarizes this point in Knowledge and Decisions: "...denunciations of inefficiency and waste are often nothing more than statements of a different set of preferences. Schemes to turn particular decisions or processes over to 'experts' ...are often simply ways of allowing one group of people to impose their subjective preferences on others."

25 Environmental Quality, 15th Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), pp. 387-94.

26 See U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, Green Products by Design (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992); J. H. Ausubel and H. E. Sladovich, eds., Technology and the Environment (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1989); and Lynn Scarlett, "Packaging, Solid Waste, and Environmental Trade-Offs" in Illahee: Journal of the Northwest Environment 10, no. 1, 1994.

27 Recently, soda can makers shaved another 1/1000th of an inch off the top and bottom of soda cans - the equivalent of one-seventh of a human hair fiber - to save even more on materials.

28 Garrett Hardin, "Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162, November 11, 1986, pp. 1243-48. See also Garrett Hardin and John Baden, Managing the Commons (New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1977).

29 Property rights, properly enforced, establish conditions both of rights and responsibilities. In a sense, they create conditions of stewardship, since they directly link individuals to the outcomes of their actions. They also create boundaries for human action by restricting the spheres within which one can act autonomously. Beyond those spheres, autonomous actions are limited at a minimum by a "do no harm" principle. Within those spheres, individuals can pursue self-defined values, including both utilitarian values such as using the land to farm and spiritual values such as protecting natural habitats.

30 See John C. Goodman and Richard L. Stroup, "Progressive Environmentalism: A Pro-Human, Pro-Science, Pro-Free Enterprise Agenda for Change," National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA Policy Report No. 162, April 1991.

31 See, for example, Randal O'Toole, Reforming the Forest Service (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1988); Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (New York: Viking, 1986); Karl Hess Jr., Visions upon the Land: Man and Nature on the Western Range (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1992); Richard L. Stroup and John Baden, Natural Resources: Bureaucratic Myths and Environmental Management (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1983).

32 See Rodney Fort and John Baden, "The Federal Budget as a Common Pool Resource," in John Baden and Richard L. Stroup, Bureaucracy vs. Government: The Environmental Cost of Bureaucratic Government (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981).

33 National Research Council, Committee on Diet and Health, Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1989), p. 695. In general, the risk to human health from either natural or man-made pesticides in our food supplies is negligible. The National Academy of Sciences implicitly recognized this fact when it recommended establishing "a negligible risk standard in setting and revising tolerances for all [carcinogenic] pesticides found in food." See National Research Council, Regulating Pesticides in Food: The Delaney Paradox (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1987), p. 12. According to Dr. Sanford Miller, Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas, "Today's pesticides represent trivial risks to the public and to our food safety. The pesticide residue risk is so low as to be meaningless, whatever the specific numbers of the risk estimates." Cited in Dennis T. Avery, Global Food Progress (Indianapolis: Hudson Institute, 1991), p. 134.

34 For an assessment of the limits of cost-benefit analysis, see Robert Formaini, The Myth of Scientific Public Policy (Social Philosophy and Policy Center: Bowling Green, OH, and Transaction Books: New Brunswick, NJ, 1990).

35 This exercise does not necessarily require complex mathematical calculations. Often, the cost-benefit balance is very clear up to a point at which costs of further mitigation escalate dramatically. At this point, more careful quantitative analysis of costs and benefits may be necessary.

36 See, for example, Aaron Wildavsky, Searching for Safety (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1998).

37 Daniel K. Mitchell, "The Deadly Impact of Federal Regulations," Journal of Regulation and Social Costs, June 1992.

38 Economist Israel Kirzner has written that "entrepreneurship in individual action consists in endeavors to secure a greater correspondence between an individual's future as he envisages it, and his future as it will in fact unfold." Kirzner's comment suggests that we are better off if we have many competing "anticipators." Israel Kirzner, "Uncertainty, Discovery and Human Action: A Study of the Entrepreneurial Profile in the Misesian System," in Israel Kirzner, ed., Method, Process and Austrian Economics: Essays in Honor of Ludwig von Mises (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1982), p. 151.

39 Cesar V. Conda and Mark D. LaRochelle, "The New Populism: The Rise of the Property Rights Movement," Commonsense 1, Fall 1994, pp. 78-98.

40 See, for instance, Ryan C. Amacher, Robert D. Tollison and Thomas D. Willett, "The Economics of Fatal Mistakes: Fiscal Mechanisms for Preserving Endangered Predators," in Terry L. Anderson and Peter J. Hill, Wildlife in the Marketplace (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), pp. 43-60.

41 Ross Korves, deputy chief economist of the American Farm Bureau, puts it this way: "The argument is made that takings legislation would require the government to pay compensation to [a polluter] if a unit of government forced him to stop dumping waste into [a stream]. The takings issue is not relevant in this situation. Under common law and nuisance law ... no property owner has an unlimited right to harm the land of others or to create a public nuisance. The responsibility to not degrade others' property is a basic feature of the right to own and use property." Ross Korves, memorandum to American Farm Bureau members, 1995.

42 This has occurred in some communities that have agreed to see landfills sited locally in exchange for financial compensation and other benefits from the landfill operator.

43 See, for example, E. M. Fijita and Douglas Lawson, "Evaluation of the Emissions Inventory in the South Coast Air Basin," Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, August 8, 1994. This knowledge should steer us toward policies that focus on cleaning up the few gross polluters or getting them off the road. By contrast, going after the many clean cars will likely cost a lot of money and yield minimal air quality improvements.

44 Roger E. Meiners describes the long history of effective use of tort law as a means of protecting individuals against harms caused by pollution in "Elements of Property Rights: The Common Law Alternative" in Yandle, ed., Land Rights, pp. 269-93.

45 Consider a few examples. First is the case of lead poisoning in the Roman Empire. One of the earliest recorded epidemiology reports was of heavy metal poisoning that resulted from use of lead in Roman aqueducts. Second is the case of the "mad hatter," a term that came from the effects of using mercury in the making of felt hats. Third and more recent is the case of cadmium bioamplification in rice and soybeans in Japan; the cadmium was discharged in the effluent from mining operations and eventually worked its way into the food supply. In such cases, uniform strict standards or bans on the handling, use or disposal of these materials might make sense.

However, when these kinds of acute problems appear, the marketplace often moves quickly to eliminate them. For example, after it became clear that vapors from chromium-plating processes resulted in serious health problems for workers, industries found ways of safely containing the vapors. The same evolution occurred among dentists in their use of mercury amalgams. Dentists found ways of minimizing exposures to the mercury vapors created during preparation of the amalgams, and some dentists turned to substitutes. Trade associations, trade unions and professional organizations often promote change by providing safety information to members.

46 Anderson and Leal, Free Market Environmentalism.

47 Sowell wrote that "there is no reason to believe that people will generally make a better set of choices out of a smaller set of options, where the larger set includes all the options in the smaller set." See Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions, p. 128.

48 Robert W. Crandall, "Ackerman and Hassler's Clean Coal/Dirty Air," Bell Journal of Economics 12, Autumn 1981.

49 See Michael Crew and Paul Kleindorfer, The Economics of Public Utility Regulation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986); see also Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981).

50 See Robert Repetto, Skimming the Water (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 1986).

51 Meiners, in Yandle, Land Rights, p. 27.

52 For an excellent discussion of the use of the common law for protecting the environment, see Elizabeth Brubaker, Property Rights in Defense of Nature (London: Earthscan Publications, 1995).

53 Audit protection laws may, however, be required to ensure that problems uncovered through audits, and which are not the consequence of negligence or intent to violate a law, are not cause for fines and other penalties. A number of states now have such audit protection laws.

54 Mike Vivoli, "Putting People Last," CEI Update, November 1992, pp. 1, 3.

55 Environmental Quality, 15th Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985).

56 Lippke, "Incentives for Managing Landscapes to Meet Non-Timber Goals."

57 See, for example, James M. Holway and Raymond J. Burby, "The Effects of Flood Plain Development Controls on Residential Land Values," Land Economics, August 1990; and Holway and Burby, "Reducing Flood Losses: Local Planning and Land-use Controls," Journal of the American Planning Association, March 22, 1993.

58 As Scott Bush of the National Environmental Policy Institute notes, this would "allow facilities to use an appropriate mix of emission, effluent, and source reduction (pollution prevention) technologies and techniques to meet the environmental goals." See draft "Consensus Objectives," Unified/Organic Statute Sector, Reinventing EPA & Environmental Policy Working Group, National Environmental Policy Institute, Washington, DC.

Read Article as PDF