March 25, 2013

Conservative environmentalism

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

In his new article, “Conservative Principles for Environmental Reform,” Professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University School of Law encourages the American conservative movement to stop simply opposing environmentalist excesses and to propose a viable, yet conservative, counter-approach to protecting the environment.  Professor Adler criticizes the conservative approach hitherto, which he characterizes as either seeking to achieve the same goals as the environmental community but at lower cost, or as simply opposing environmental regulation without consideration of substitute policies.  (Of course, undergirding Professor Adler’s argument is the undefended premise that it is good to protect the “environment”).

Professor Adler recommends a five-point program for environmental reform.  First, do no harm, i.e., stop funding federal projects that destroy habitat, etc.  Second, green through growth, because as communities become wealthier, they become more interested in protecting the environment.  Third, promote and protect private property, to avoid the “tragedy of the commons.”  Fourth, make the polluter pay, i.e., don’t let private actors use broad-brush regulation to force other private actors to pay for the externalities of their activities.  Fifth, decentralize decision-making, because most pressing environmental problems are local or regional and thus best addressed through non-federal means.

An interesting program.  Although one might quibble with various points therein, I believe that Professor Adler deserves praise for providing a conservative response to the traditional left-leaning approach of environmentalism.

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