The environmentalist movement continues to face criticism. It is fair to say that most people do care about neglectful littering, clean water, and pollution.
This past Saturday (April 22) was Earth Day 2017. Earth Day is a popular time for both conservatives and libertarians – with plenty of justification – to mock the environmentalism movement. Mentioning that one of the original Earth Day organizers, Ira Einhorn, “composted” his girlfriend after murdering her is common. Challenging climate change assertions which defy logic and reason is also commonplace.
All of it only preaches to the choir. It does approximately zero to change anyone’s mind.
Coincidentally, it was also the spring date for my son’s new Boy Scout troop to do its semi-annual “Adopt-A-Highway” clean up along a Pennsylvania state route in our neighborhood. For about three-and-a-half hours, our crew of about 30 scouts and adult volunteers (me and my son included) picked up trash on the side of a two-mile section of road. Right now, I can hear people already running to social media to label me some sort of sell-out or traitor.
“Our side’s” position on environmental issues is commendable from an anti-statist perspective: government has far-overreached its enumerated powers, and has choked economic growth because of it.
Opposing environmental regulation leads directly to accusations of wanting to poison our children, putting corporations before people. Pick your progressive talking point. These labels are both easy to apply and be believable, because no alternative is offered in either rhetoric or action.
This brings me back to the side of Pennsylvania Route 910 in Richland Township. Let’s all confess: all of us, no matter how environmentally conscious we consider ourselves to be, have heaved something out the window of our vehicles while driving or riding, or have tossed litter while walking. I certainly have.
Along the way, we picked up an alarming number of beer and liquor containers, which I’m sure weren’t only discarded by non-drivers. I also picked up a condom (unused in wrapper, thankfully), dozens of drink cups and fast food containers, a piece of newspaper dated Saturday, June 5, 2004 that was still completely readable after almost 13 years (so much for “biodegradable”), and a small American flag which, regardless of size, should’ve been treated with more respect.
What else did we remove? Tires, garbage cans, accident debris that was just swept to the side of the road and not picked up, and literally thousands of cigarette butts and the filters that remain after the paper and tobacco vanishes (I felt personally indicted by that as an ex-smoker who, while driving, had a “The World is my ashtray” mentality). Oh, and another American flag. One of the scouts at one point just said in a very tired voice, “People just don’t care.”
In those four words is exactly why our position against handing more and more control over our daily lives to government fails: we fail to care.
Completely set aside any debate over “climate change”, “global warming”, and the like, because it’s irrelevant. Who wants garbage thrown everywhere? Who wants a city and surrounds like Pittsburgh where I live to return to the black sky “sunny” days that were common here until after World War II? Who wants to worry when you turn on your tap if the water is safe to drink?
I hope the answer is “none of us”, but along with that, we’re also all too willing to let it be someone else’s problem.
Environmental regulations and environmentalist groups didn’t start as the present-day home of failed Marxists who want to destroy free enterprise. They arose out of legitimate concerns, and have been bastardized over time by those forces.
People – including those who ran polluting industries – failed to take responsibility for and provide their own solutions to environmental issues without government forcing them.
Here’s a simple fact of ceding responsibility: someone, most likely government via police powers, will eventually impose responsibility regardless of the cost, consequences, or practicality.
Hypothetically, what if the coal-burning electrical power industry had started decades ago on its own initiative to clean up its own act, rather than waiting until being forced to do so by government? I bet the costs associated with being “cleaner” would be much less. When you’re forced into regulatory compliance, you either pay whatever the solution costs (and as it’s being forced, the solution suppliers can charge whatever they want, regardless of economic value) or go out of business.
Acting in one’s own rational self-interest is difficult. It means not going for the quick pleasure when there’s a longer view to take.
Anti-environmentalist rhetoric isn’t enough: what are you going to do to provide an alternative solution to their nihilistic vision of modern life?
There’s a Pittsburgh strip club which does “Adopt-A-Highway” on Interstate 279 just north of downtown. I’ve never seen a section of road that’s been adopted by “The Republican Party of Allegheny County” or “Pittsburgh Libertarians”. That says a lot, doesn’t it?
Rolling back environmental regulations will be meaningless without efforts to care for our environment in absence of those regulations. Pendulums swing, and our current politics should demonstrate to one and all, when they swing back (and they will) they swing all the harsher.
If the preferred alternative to government is non-governmental responsibility, we all must show it. Actions will speak louder than words. We – individuals, businesses, liberty-minded community groups, etc. – need to get out there, get our hands dirty, and start cleaning up.