With the start of the new semester come new classes, some familiar and unfamiliar faces, learning about our new professors and loads of tedious readings. But wait! Let’s not forget the same ugly anti-capitalistic and anti-private property rhetoric thrown around each and every semester at AU. You hear this rhetoric even in classes not directly concerned with politics and policy— in one of my first classes this semester, I witnessed this rhetoric. While conservatives across campus are exceptional at defending our values in the classroom, we stumble with questions regarding the environment. And of course, Liberals use our falter to rail against capitalism. Honesty, I give credit to my liberal classmates for their vigorous environmental passion, an area where the energy lacks for conservatives. To be fair, the environment hasn’t always been a top issue for conservatives, and many often dismiss it altogether. However, that shouldn’t discourage conservatives from having a passion for the environment and demanding sustainable solutions.
Although I agree with my left-leaning peers on the necessity of protecting the environment, I disagree vehemently with them on is the perception that the solutions to environmental issues are restricted to ever increasing big government programs. We can make a conservative case for environmental concerns, and it begins with shrinking—not expanding—government programs.
First and foremost, I believe our country is the most beautiful country in the world. “From sea to shining sea” America has the most bountiful gifts that nature has bestowed. Our forests bustle with sprawling trees, our rivers gush with crystal clear water, our mountains glisten with shining snow, our beaches are full of sand that glows with the likeness of gold, and our hills and valleys are filled with diverse wildlife. I am so fortunate to have seen much of this beautiful country in my lifetime already; everywhere from the Shenandoah Valley, the Badlands, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Cape Cod, Yellowstone National Park, and the Redwood Forests of California. I cannot think of the spirit of America without imagining the blissfulness of these lands—and that’s why everyone should care about the future of the environment, for our generation and the generations to come.
To keep our beautiful nation environmentally sound, we must allow the greatest aspect of our government to strengthen: that which promotes prosperity of all kinds; one that governs least and yields to liberty—the protection of our natural rights. To truly facilitate this, the priority must be promoting conservative principles of private property, free markets and self-responsibility in the direction of environmental issues.
To the contrary of much left-wing thought, the protection of private property rights helps the environment. Private property rights are everyone’s individual and exclusive right to own land, resources and the fruits of their labors in the peaceful enjoyment of their possession. This causes an incentive to maintain one’s property and therefore create and retain value in that property. In a system that protects private property rights, environmental problems such as resource management, animal extinction and pollution can and have been greatly reduced.
The environmental problem at the root of resource management and animal extinction is the tragedy of commons, or the unrestricted collective usage of a common resource until its destruction. In tragedy of the commons, individuals attempt to maximize utility from a resource by consuming more, effectively diminishing competitor utility. In other words, no individual has incentive to retain the value, in a collective property or its continual usage, because while they receive a great benefit, they only have to pay for the fraction of the cost for that resource’s exploitation. Ultimately, the community pays for the destruction of a resource when it’s completely gone, not those who destroyed it. Individuals, who own these resources as private property can manage their resources and sell these resources for a market price that produces a valuation, thus profit from resource usage. Individuals seek to retain and create value—or money—they have acquired from that property.
There are numerous examples of this, specifically when it comes to timber companies or livestock such as chickens or cows. If a timber company just cuts down trees in a national forest, they would seek to cut as many down as possible, thus depleting the resource. However, if the company can own some of the land, they seek to cut down trees in a sustainable manner to continue to create value from that land, likely by planting more trees.
Furthermore, the protection of private property reduces or eliminates pollution. Now, you may be thinking, “Alex, companies who have the protection of their property have polluted the environment!” Hold on, that’s not entirely accurate, let’s go back to an important distinction of our definition of private property: “everyone’s right.” A great failure during the industrial revolution was the lack of an attempt to protect everyone’s property. As a great many factories sprung up, businesses polluted rivers and ecosystems in ways that harmed people’s private homes, businesses and water sources. In order to protect everyone’s property, a company cannot just pollute others’ private property!
However, the EPA doesn’t uphold property rights. Instead, they have pollution permits that allow levels of pollutants to enter the environment. These pollution permits essentially prevent property owners from suing these companies in civil litigations. By retaining power back to the people and eliminating inept big government programs like this, individuals can protect their property and the environment via the common law system.
The free market system is optimal for the environment, and it should be noted that the most free-market and affluent nations have the greatest protection of the environment. When economies are allowed to break free from government intervention, the total wealth of the nation increases and creates the conditions to afford luxury goods such as clean environments.
When we cut red tape, lower taxes and allow private enterprises to function in a free market, clean energy companies can compete. In doing so, they may start developing better energy technology that flows from a free market’s goal: efficient usage of resources. This leads to a process of innovation and economic efficiency, producing more value from fewer resources for consumers. By producing efficiently, we lower our carbon footprints. For example, with the amount of information we produce each year, we could not sustain safe environmental standards with inferior technology like fax machines, paper mail and print sources. The inventions of the Internet and the computer have saved millions of trees and have allowed us to expand our information reach.
One of the great features of free markets is the accumulation of capital, which promotes production unintended for direct consumption linking to economic growth. Capital accumulation allows investments in both human capital and social capital. For example, many capitalists such as Rockefeller, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates have donated and preserved many millions of acres of land. In fact, Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Shenandoah National Park are all lands donated by the Rockefeller foundation. Unlike these capitalists, command economies have national schemes to exploit large amounts of land in “five year plans” and usually overuse resources in inefficient ways leading to fewer innovations and a less beautiful land. After all, when was the last time you visited China for the poor air quality or Russia for their radioactive forest and even both of their natural parks and sightseeing?
Lastly, one must contemplate their ideas, as a typical AU student might say: “Corporations and capitalism are the source of environmental degradation.” While this may sound appealing and logical, it isn’t accurate. We need to realize everyone contributes to the environment’s wellbeing. In a pure economic sense, supply equals demand when in equilibrium; therefore you cannot have the supply for goods without the demand for them. We the consumers, which includes everyone, have the power to help make our environment cleaner. Corporations don’t control what we demand, we do! Self responsibility is the course of action, and if that means we need to look at the trash containers and pick the right ones, buy products which have low carbon foot prints or chose better ways of living-then we must take the initiative. We all have a part to play, even this writer.
Conservatism holds the answer to solving our environmental crises: Smaller government, freer markets and the protection of private property. These conservative ideals have lead to great prosperities in these lands and can help make America clean again!