The Problem of Environmental Calculation

One of the things about radical environmentalists is that they seem to learn a lesson, only to fail to learn from it. What do I mean?

Recently, New York Times writer David Pogue rehashed in a column titled The Bottom Line of the Eco Balance Sheet the “calculus of green” as it relates to the age-old eco-awareness question, “Paper or plastic?”

He runs through the pros and cons of each type of bag, finally concluding: “The real answer to that question, of course, is ‘neither—bring your own reusable bags.'”

Having complained of the complexity of the “calculus of green” and having run through both sides of the paper-plastic argument, he suddenly proclaims the answer. Without any supporting evidence.

Reading this column, I realized the source of the problem: Mr. Pogue has no respect for private property rights, and for their power to regulate behavior and stewardship of the environment.

For example, one side of the paper-plastic argument is that plastic bags “choke the oceans and sea life.” Well, who owns the seas? If someone owned a portion of a sea, would he allow others to harm it with discarded plastic bags?

“Creating paper bags creates 70 percent more air pollution.” The courts have decided that people don’t own the air on their property, and that others are allowed to pollute it.

There are other examples.

Lack of private property rights leads to the very calculation problems that Mr. Pogue describes. Instead of relying on markets — free people trading freely, taking into account all the costs their actions create — we rely on government, which has a very poor record with regard to the environment.

You can learn more about free markets and their ability to promote environmental stewardship in Richard Stroup’s article Environmentalism, Free-Market, a good place to start. At YouTube, you can watch a lecture-interview by Walter Block about Free market environmentalism.

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