CELEBRATE EARTH'S BEST FRIEND: THE FREE MARKET

April 21, 2010

This Earth Day we are reminded of the value of environmental protection.  Clean air, clean water, species protection, and pristine wilderness are items we all value.  The United States, relative to most of the world, is exceptionally blessed with each of these environmental goods.  This Earth Day we should all celebrate the single most important factor in making all these environmental goods possible: the free market, says James M. Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute. 

Only a wealthy society can afford the economic sacrifices necessary to put expensive scrubbers on smokestacks, to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to sustain clean waterways, and to set aside productive lands for conservation and species protection.  And the wealthiest nations are those that respect and nurture market freedom. 

How stark is the difference in environmental quality between nations that encourage the market and those that stifle it? 

  • A study published in the January issue of the science journal Nature documents that so much pollution from Asia is crossing the Pacific Ocean that U.S. ozone levels are rising even though U.S. ozone precursor emissions are declining.
  • States in the western United States are having difficulty meeting federal ozone standards because pollution from relatively poor nations in East Asia is offsetting declines in U.S. emissions. 

For nations such as China, India, Bangladesh, Laos and Vietnam -- each languishing in the bottom third of the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom World Rankings -- imposing expensive environmental mandates on citizens who cannot afford food, clothing and shelter is not an option.  Western-style environmental protections first require Western-style wealth.  And Western-style wealth was made possible, and will remain possible, only through free markets and economic liberty, says Taylor. 

The extent to which current and future generations of Americans can afford environmental protections that are nonexistent in the rest of the world will depend primarily on the extent to which our government allows free markets to flourish.  More intrusive government regulations, higher taxes and penalties on financial success may be motivated by good intentions, but the real-world impact always has been, and always will be, to stifle economic growth and reduce the amount of societal wealth that can be devoted to environmental protection, says Taylor. 

Source: James Taylor, "Celebrate Earth's Best Friend," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 18, 2010. 

 

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