Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

March 30, 2008

Earth Hour — What They SHOULD Have Said

by Brad Warbiany

Allow me to engage in a bit of strawman-bashing. In the comments to Don Boudreaux’s excellent post at Cafe Hayek, a rather idiotic argument came up. It is the same argument that many of our own contributors received when we opposed Ron Paul, and commenters told us “If you don’t like Ron Paul, you must tell us who we SHOULD vote for.” It’s a strawman, of course, because criticizing one idea doesn’t obligate you to posit your own. But that’s not good enough for some people, as this comment to Don’s post shows:

Congratulations!

Instead of bringing forward some better and more rational proposals that will help to avoid that hysteria that indeed clouds the environmental issues and could cause the remedies to be worse than the sickness, and help the world to be able to use scarce resources wisely and effective… you live up to your role as an educator, as a beacon of light… and just make fun of it all.

As if the folks at Cafe Hayek haven’t offered their own positive ideas on a whole host of topics, one bit of criticism gets the “well, what would YOU do about it?” response. Laughable…

…but I’m going to offer a suggestion anyway. I’m going to offer the free-market environmentalist answer.

Here’s what the World Wildlife Fund should have said:

Greetings. In our modern world, we are faced with many problems. While the work of caring environmentalists and improved technology has done a lot to improve the environmental situation in the Western world, we have much farther to go. Rising populations and increased worldwide standard of living are only adding to the strain that humanity is placing on our planet. Oil and coal have served us well to bring us to this point, but exact a heavy toll on the planet to extract and use. These sources of energy are the past; they are not the future.

Conservation is one part of the solution to this problem. Conservation helps the environment by reducing demand, and helps individuals by reducing the prices they pay for the resources they use. Taken in the aggregate across society, reduced individual energy use helps to ensure that we can move from today’s needs to the future, and do so in a smooth transition. We hope that our recent Earth Hour event reminds humanity that they should be ever-mindful of their impact on the planet, and do what they can to minimize that individual impact, for the good of their pocketbooks and the planet.

But conservation is not enough. The pressures of increased population and increased prosperity will only lead to higher energy consumption. In order to protect our Earth, we must find alternative energy sources, with a smaller impact on our environment. To ensure widespread acceptance, the solution must be both environmentally-friendly and cheap. Our current solutions show promise, but are too expensive to be deployed on a wide scale. Thankfully, rising prices of oil will make it more economically feasible to explore alternatives, and the work of firms such as Massachussetts’ Konarka Technologies are helping to bridge the gap between today and the future.

Environmentalism and energy consumption are not mutually-exclusive. The crucial factor, however, is technology. We can solve these problems, but it won’t be done by politicians or policymakers. It won’t come from Washington or Brussels. And it can’t be done by mandate. The solutions will come from hard-working, caring, dedicated scientists and engineers. It will come from those in the private sector who stand to make a profit from cheap, clean energy.

Those who care about our planet have many options open to them. For those who are still young, with their careers and lives ahead of them, we encourage you to study physics, materials science, and engineering. You can directly impact the problem by researching, developing, and implementing the technologies which will help us solve these problems. For those who may be too late to change their career path, there are countless investment opportunities in the companies working on these problems. The beauty of these options is that it offers you both the opportunity to profit and enact a social good.

Turning off your lights for an hour is a reminder of what you can do in the short term, and of the important problem that we must solve. But if you really want to help, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start making the long-term solution a reality.

Those of us on “the right” are often lambasted as uncaring when it comes to environmental problems. We are not. We are simply cognizant of the fact that the solutions “the left” offers are typically damaging, counterproductive, and anti-prosperity. The real solution will come from the same place all solutions come — the long-term work by people trying to improve their own lives, and by extension improve the world for the rest of us.

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  • doogie

    LOL, that was a funny post. He is actually trying to prentend “the right” candidate McLieberfiengoldnedy isn’t advocating the same damaging, counterproductive, and anti-prosperity Gore-bal Warming crap that “the left” is.

    I wish neocons would better define what they believe in and stick to it. I’m sure Brad here here be writing future posts on how good global taxation for carbon emissions are once he finds out it’s part of his leader’s agenda.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    doogie,

    Let’s see… I advocated a solution to the problem that requires absolutely no government involvement whatsoever, specifically stating that the solution “won’t come from Washington or Brussels”, and you’re here suggesting I’m a shill for McCain and global carbon taxes?

    Try to read what I wrote, rather than filter it through your ideological goggles. Not everything is left vs. right, which is why I used quotes around “the right” and “the left”. Try thinking a little bit deeper here.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    Also, please don’t confuse the right-wing socialism of the Republican party for the totality of the right.

  • TerryP

    Brad

    I liked your response on what the WWF should have wrote.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    The free market didn’t respond to air pollution, what was that about?

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    VRB,

    Sweetie, in the U.S. the free market was responding to air pollution, until about 1840 when U.S. judges decided that the common good of society (it’s need for manufactured goods) outweighed the individual rights of people who lived downwind of the factories.

    Once the courts declared that there was a “right to pollute” that was the end of things.

    But, please feel free to blame the free market for the doings of a government that gave higher priority to the “needs of society” over the selfish people who stood in the way of society by standing on their rights.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/stephen/ Stephen Littau

    Brad:

    Your response is exactly what more libertarians and people on “the right” should try to echo. Too many people have the impression that by those who are against such things as the Kyoto Protocol and other big government environmental regulations are against the environment. Being against the Kyoto Protocol no more makes one anti-environment than being against affirmative action or hate crimes legislation makes one a racist/bigot (though there are plenty on the left who would make that charge).

    If those who can advocate free market and individual rights (properly understood the rights of life, liberty, and property) solutions to environmental problems would only do so, we could have an honest discussion without sacrificing individual liberty (and perhaps enhance individual liberty). I think The Liberty Papers is just as good of a place to start this discussion as anywhere.

    Well done Brad!

  • oilnwater

    environmental regulation in the US began simply with the tort system within the US courts. if that’s where it stayed, things would be fine. by fine, i’m not saying “perfect,” because of course nothing is perfect. but believe it that keeping environmental wrongdoings within this realm would have been a thousandfold more efficient and beneficial to both society and its industries than the concepts of environment regulation today.

  • http://publiusendures.blogspot.com Mark

    Tarran:
    I had never heard of that case before. Do you happen to know the cite? I would love to read that case.

    By the way, as proof that government intervention in environmental affairs is counterproductive, I would point to the recent energy bill, of which environmentalists on “the left” should be ashamed. Well, at least those who cheered it and thought it was the greatest thing for the environment since the Clean Water Act- there were some that saw how bad it was.

    I can’t imagine many things more harmful to the environment than dramatically increased ethanol subsidies and a mandate for higher ethanol content in fuel, but there they are. Oddly, the same politicians who passed this bill are now using rising food (and fuel) prices as a justification for more government welfare spending. And of course there is the fact that these subsidies will result in the creation of more farmland, which means an increase in fertilizer production, which means more chemicals being released. Then there is the fact that corn ethanol requires almost as much energy to produce as it creates (more, IIRC, once you factor in associated costs). But hey! It’s renewable, and it’s not as if politicians and environmental lobbyists need to recognize the existence of trade-offs, anyways, since that would mean living in the real world.

    The rest of the bill is just a bunch of feel-good measures like the asinine 35 MPG CAFE standard that will do little to nothing to help the environment.

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