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The Conservative Approach to Environmental Protection Doesn't Work

J. Mijin Cha

In a series of posts at The Atlantic, Jonathan Adler has looked at how to advance environmental protection and action on climate change while still adhering to conservative principles like limited government and market-based solutions. Adler’s posts are interesting and thoughtful. Some of his policies we've even advocated for, like a carbon tax.

But, when looking deeper, you see the flaws in most of the solutions he offers. For one, he believes the EPA should have limited regulatory authority and that they should not regulate greenhouse gases, even though regulating these gases makes power plants more efficient and reduces air pollution. Not to mention the technological advances and innovation spurred by environmental regulations.

He strongly advocates for “free-market” environmentalism, which argues environmental protection is better achieved through giving private actors property rights over what are now public goods. But, there is no private market for things like clean air so how exactly would free-market environmentalism result in better environmental protection? And, ultimately, wouldn’t it just continue the corporatization of our culture by privatizing parks and other public spaces?

Adler also discounts the need for and success of federal regulation in environmental protection and argues for more state and local control. The state's rights argument ignores the reality that, perhaps more than any other area, environmental protection needs federal regulations to set basic standards because things like air pollution do not stay confined within a state's border.

And, he adopts the subtle rhetoric of painting conservatives as reasonable and liberals as the problem:

Many so-called skeptics note that environmental activists and some climate scientists exaggerate the likely effects of anthropogenic warming, distorting scientific findings and overstating the extent to which contemporary events (hurricanes, etc.) may be linked to human activity to date.  But the excesses of climate activists and bad behavior by politically active scientists (and the IPCC) do not, and should not, discredit the underlying science, or justify excoriating those who reach a different conclusion.  Indeed, most skeptics within the scientific community readily accept the basic science.

If you had only read this passage, you would think that climate advocates are the problem and climate skeptics are perfectly reasonable people who just disagree on policy proposals. Michael Gershon did the same thing when he placed the blame of escalating tensions around climate change on climate change advocates. Both Adler and Gershon, of course, ignore the climate skeptics that physically threaten and intimidate climate scientists, conservative thinks tanks that compare climate change advocates to mass murderers and groups like ALEC that push a corporate agenda that deliberately distorts the truth about climate change--none of whom are considered the fringe of the conservative party.

Compared to other critics, at least Adler believes that not only is climate change happening, we should take steps to mitigate it. Now if only he could embrace the fact that we cannot solve the climate crisis through less regulation, more privitization, and market-based solutions but instead we need better, stronger regulations and a move away from solutions that only see success in monetary gains.