Let’s Be Smart About the Environment

Do we have to wreck our prosperous economy in order to secure the value of a clean environment? Environmental extremists must recognize that when governments use sledgehammers to accomplish laudatory goals, they do more harm than good.
Published on April 13, 2007

The environmental issue lends itself to all extremes of causes and opinions. The “deep ecologists” want to see humanity evolve away from modernity back to – or forward to, in their minds – some kind of mythical Garden of Eden, which probably never existed. A few “stick in the muds” deny there are any environmental problems at all.

The vast majority of citizens want to have it both ways, with a clean, improving environment amid a modern, prosperous economy delivering a high standard of living and quality social programs. Those who strongly adhere to this view call ourselves “modern environmentalists” as opposed to the “post-modern environmentalists” exemplified by the David Suzuki’s and Al Gore’s of the world.

But that majority who want to “have it all” are increasingly confused by the mixed messages to them or, more ominously, taught to their children. If you’ll forgive a trite agricultural metaphor, we could compare our economy to a cow that delivers “milk” in terms of the goods and services that we need to survive. We modern environmentalists want a healthy cow. If she needs some improvements to deliver more environmentally sound “milk,” we are willing to make all the necessary decisions about her feeding and care.

Although they don’t usually say it directly, “deep ecologists” want to kill the cow. Or at least that’s the logical end-point of their propositions, which would result in a radical transformation of modern society. Their environmental prescriptions also involve a lot of new international legal authorities, expanded bureaucracies, new taxes and prohibitions of what to many are normal activities in a modern, capitalistic democracy that respects property rights.

No sacrifice is too great, say Al Gore and David Suzuki; after all, we need to save humanity from itself. Or as that departed humanitarian, Papa Joe Stalin, used to say, “In order to make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs.” That’s a reminder of the H.L. Mencken aphorism, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.”

Post-modern environmentalists are prone to using litmus tests, key questions to determine what “side” you may be on in the environmental debate. Heaven help those who come down on the “wrong” side. Take Kyoto as an example. Those like climatologist Tim Ball who question Kyoto orthodoxy are labeled “deniers” with all of the ugly Holocaust connotations that word implies.

It’s the same if you question the regulatory approach to the conservation of endangered species, the tactics embodied in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). “Don’t you care about endangered species?” is flung back at people who actually question whether taking away a landowner’s livelihood to protect endangered species is the best approach. Under SARA, that’s just what can happen. Providing incentives to private landowners to propagate endangered species by expanding their habitat is a much better option. But you will never hear that put forward by post-modern environmentalists. Laws, laws and more laws are their preferred approaches.

The dirty little secret about many current environmental laws and some being proposed is that they don’t or won’t produce any real environmental results. Few of the millions of dollars being spent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve endangered species, improve our waterways, protect biodiversity, reduce waste or protect habitats actually result in any measurable environmental improvement. Our environment is in pretty good shape overall, but that’s more due to the efforts of individual Canadians and companies as opposed to the system of laws that are currently proposed or in place.

Don’t get me wrong. Laws, for instance, that regulate point-source pollution have their place. But our governments waste appalling amounts of money on programs that don’t produce results, resources they could use to address real environmental problems.

A “Smart Green” strategy would emphasize results not process, use market forces and incentives to enhance environmental quality, rely on unbiased science, enhance the use of modern technology and eliminate perverse public policies that actually cause environmental harm. The profligate environmental spending by wasteful bureaucracies in the environmental department of the federal government could be redirected into programs that actually deliver real environmental results.

Let’s actually deal with real environmental problems and deliver real environmental results by being both “smart and green.”

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