The Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The Flint water crisis. Pollution in Lake Maracaibo. What do these have in common? Governments’ respective inabilities to protect the environment, their natural resources and the lives of their citizens from harm.
Because these and countless other events have proven that governments are unable to protect their rich ecological resources, the government should not be charged with such an important responsibility. The true solution to issues like these is intensive property rights, and a government only large enough to uphold such property rights. Nothing more.
A self-regulating market, free from restriction, is a more sound, long-lasting method to save the environment and keep it free from political pressures. Individuals acting in their own self-interests will pay attention to how we care for the environment and use their dollar votes to protect these interests.
Humans are innately aesthetic creatures. The vast majority of us clearly enjoy beauty; and nature is the pinnacle of such beauty: Untouched by man, left in its pristine condition for all time. Given a supply of nature preserves and parks, people will find value in such places and actively work to protect them by paying to visit. Government is not needed for individuals to decide they want nature to be kept in its pristine, original condition.
Consider a local organization, Joshua’s Trust, which oversees over 4500 acres of land in Tolland and Windham counties. This organization has been around for just over 50 years with the aim of protecting the lands under their charge forever. This organization continued to thrive through all those years with no sign of decline in terms of both volunteer and monetary support. If that’s not a perfect example of the power of the individual and the free market to protect our beloved ecosystems, I do not know what is.
You might now ask what about the energy industry? Wouldn’t a total lack of government interference lead to a worsening condition? This is a valid concern; however such concern is altogether misguided, as all facets of the energy industry in the United States are heavily subsidized by the government, including natural gas, coal and oil to the tune of upwards of $20 billion each year. If the government truly wishes to limit carbon emissions, it should allow the true costs of our energy production and consumption to be reflected in our choices. Without a fossil fuel subsidy, especially if we live in areas primarily supplied by fossil fuel energy, our electric bills will be higher if we were to use the same amount of energy, thus people will be incentivized to use less energy and in the process produce fewer carbon emissions.
We are not ready for completely renewable energy sources yet. Plans like Germany’s to become 100 percent renewable have actually lead to more carbon emissions. Whereas the U.S., with the government having taken comparatively fewer steps towards such drastic change, actually managed to decrease its emissions in a similar period of time. The reason for these decreases is the introduction of more efficient and clearly cleaner methods of energy production: natural gas and nuclear. Natural gas produces less per unit carbon than coal and significantly fewer toxic emissions such as lead, mercury and sulfur dioxide. Nuclear energy, though scary, is actually responsible for fewer deaths per year than all other forms of energy production, produces zero-emissions and has the smallest physical footprint per unit energy.
Furthermore, despite a $535 million dollar loan guarantee from the Department of Energy as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus plan in 2009 and ample tax breaks from California to Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer, the company still went under within five years due to plummeting prices from competitors. This is not how our tax money should be spent.
Despite overwhelming evidence of governments’ inability to take proper care of the environment, why is it that we still place this immense responsibility explicitly upon our governments? We must each, as consumers, work in our own individual interests to educate ourselves on these issues, and fight for what we believe in with our dollar votes, not our democratic votes. This is the only way to create lasting change.
Seth Zweig is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org