Bryan Griffin: A Conservative Approach To Environmentalism

Jun 26, 2019

Tonight and tomorrow night, twenty Democratic contenders will engage in their first debate of the primary season for the 2020 presidential race. I expect each candidate will be making lots of promises to solve pressing societal issues with big government solutions. No matter the promised goal, you won’t hear diversity on the approach: more taxes, more bureaucracy, more government programs. A top-down approach. When you hear the word “universal” what you are really hearing is “government.”

The Democratic candidates will also be undoubtedly talking about climate change--perhaps even going so far as to further the narrative that Democrats and the left are the only ones who care about environmentalism or have any plans or desire to clean up our planet. This just isn’t true.

I’ve spent time discussing the poor track record that big government programs have solving things like poverty, healthcare issues, and historically protecting human rights and dignity.

Well, big government fails at protecting the environment as well.

Under our last Democratic president, the government made some seriously costly blunders indicative of the failures of a top-down (read: big government) approach to environmentalism.

For example, the National Science Foundation (a publicly funded entity) awarded $700,000 to a Brooklyn theater company to produce a play about climate change. The play reached 5 percent of its intended audience. Or consider the true story of the previous administration’s EPA being swindled out of $1 million by a high ranking climate change official who was able to convince his colleagues he was secretly a spy.

Imagine the power of that same money spent by the private sector on innovative ways to reduce or control pollution, preserve resources, or harness cleaner energy.

Big government is slow to move, sloppy with funding, and has little accountability. If something isn’t working, the feedback process is slow and drawn out. And then when something does need to be changed, getting the national government to make any adjustments can be a time-consuming and costly process. Our national government isn’t suited to solving local issues, which is often the approach the environment needs.

The federalist-minded conservative recognizes this in policy. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership is pushing our focus to go even bigger. A one-size fits all global solution. That will work, right?

Under President Obama, America signed the Paris Climate Accord. It was an international effort to curtail global CO2 emissions by regulations that would be enacted by each signatory country. Trump, new to the office, reversed course and pulled the U.S. out of the commitment, instead focusing time and effort on reducing government regulation and making it easier for American industries to locate and harvest fossil fuels and fossil fuel alternatives right at home.

In our first year out of the agreement, U.S. carbon emissions decreased by an excess of 42 million tons. American industries and consumers achieved this by largely substituting natural gas (now more broadly available) for coal. Regulation didn’t bring our emissions down; it was market forces. Industries had access to new fuel deposits and were incentivized to innovate more efficient usage and fossil fuel alternatives.

However, 2017 did show us what big-government’s track record really is like, even when it signs onto climate accords.

Consider the world’s biggest government, communist China. It signed the accord and were still responsible for the largest increase of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere in 2017. China’s Jianhe River is bright red from chemical waste. In 2010, an oil storage facility in Dalian experienced a catastrophic spill 4 times the size of the BP Horizon spill. Air quality contamination levels in Beijing have exceeded the range of the capabilities of measuring equipment. An attributable 2,500+ hundred deaths in Beijing in 2012 were due to pollution. How has China’s regulatory state served the interests of the planet?

Free countries with limited government and sensible environmental incentives are going to be the answer to the world’s climate change.

Democrats seem to have a hard time with this truth. They’re now all angling to back the mother of all big-government disasters, the Green New Deal.

Republicans and conservative ideals do have a viable alternative for environmental care. It involves fostering consumer awareness and responsibility, incentivizing where necessary, deregulating to a point that drives smart competition, and most importantly, innovation.

The market is powerful. We as consumers buy ‘green’, conserve when we can, and reuse what we are able to reuse. Most of us are mindful of the need to leave our planet in a better condition than we found it. And for those consumers and companies who aren’t mindful of these things, money talks. The right incentives and public information about poor environmental practices will either create competition for companies to be cleaner or drive consumers away from the worst offenders.

And that’s not to mention the power of the market and free society to innovate.

How did we curb the world’s deforestation problem? We didn’t ration paper – we invented the USB drive and the computer.

Unending regulation extinguishes the flame of innovation and dooms us all. More on that topic in a later commentary.

Honest conservatives want to protect and preserve our environment as much as honest liberals. There’s a way to do this via the power of the market, cities, states, and limited government all working in tandem. Endlessly expanding government and approaching issues with a one-size fits all mindset will only push our planet closer to the brink.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.