free market environmentalism
Ronald Reagan was probably the last really great leader to serve as president of the United States. Although disdained and considered a dangerous ideologue by most elites while he was in office, history has given him a pretty good verdict. Reagan restored growth, won the Cold War and, when circumstances forced him to, even stabilized a Social Security system that was on the brink of collapse.
Even among Reagan fans, however, his environmental record rarely gets much credit. Many of my fellow conservative Reagan fans are dismissive of environmental concerns and a roughly equal proportion of environmentalists are disdainful of the conservative goals that Reagan himself emphasized.
This is a shame, because Reagan’s record on the environment, although far from perfect, is a pretty good model for a conservation agenda that just about everyone should embrace. As I describe in the Weekly Standard, the Reagan administration took major steps to end subsidies for environmentally destructive activities, pushed for and negotiated a smartly designed agreement to phase out harmful chlorofluorocarbons and did a good job balancing conservation, recreation, and resource extraction on public land. This agenda saved money while still making very real environmental progress.
I attended the Human Achievement Hour at the Competitive Enterprise Institute over the weekend, a several hour party and networking event. Designed to be the counter to Earth Hour—you know, that time when hippies everywhere turn off their lights for an hour to supposedly show solidarity with Mother Nature—it involves lots of lights, food, drink, and even had a streaming video of it. (In case you saw me on there, I apologize. I never wanted to hurt people with my ugliness.)
But even uglier than me were some of the comments on the event’s Facebook page. Many called it “stupid,” even “evil,” and one person who said “I wasn’t going to turn my lights off, but now I will.” To which I ask these people, why?
There seems to be a misconception that somehow, free market capitalism and individual liberty are in direct opposition to saving the environment. This is not at all the case. Looking at history, what places have the best environments, the best air quality, the most protected wildlife refuges? It’s not in places like Eastern Europe, swamped in smog, or places like India or China or South America. They’re in places that have well defined property rights and a free market system. It all goes back to the Lorax and the Tragedy of the Commons: if you put private property rights in something, people will care about it.
Personally, I’ve long believed that the environmental movement has blown it. Their focus has been on asking Americans to sacrifice for the betterment of the environment, when what I think they should have done is focused on financial benefits to Americans and American companies for being more “green”. People will sacrifice for a lot of things, but it helps if they’re sacrificing for themselves moreso.
Now, there’s some evidence that seems to support my theory, at least to some extent.
Apparently, there’s been a bit of data that suggests that green houses are selling faster, and for a higher percentage of their asking value, than more traditionally built homes in the Atlanta area. From the Green Building Chronicle:
[Carson] Matthews’ latest numbers — in which he crunched together the 2009 and 2010 results — show that certified green homes:
• comprised 7.5 percent of the new construction market metro Atlanta over that time;
• sold for 94.9 percent of the listed price, versus 91.8 percent for conventional new homes;
• and took only 108 days to close, compared to 132 days for conventional homes.
While those numbers may not seem dramatic, they have something even stronger going for them: ”The numbers have been really consistent,” Matthews writes in an e-mail. “There have been the occasional quarter where the numbers didn’t match up, but maybe once in 2.5 years. Every other quarter and obviously in the yearly comparisons, the numbers are very supportive and consistent in support of green home building.”
The report cites a few limitations with Matthews’ study, but a similar study focused on elsewhere showed similar results as well. It’s not really surprising.