Part 1: This Earth Day, bring environmental policy into the 21st century

Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day. Below is the first part of a three-part column by Todd Myers.

Look at a map of Washington. There is a simple and obvious fact: the people who embrace the free market are the same people who live nearest to nature. Conversely, those who call themselves environmentalists choose to live in urban areas where nature has been paved over and destroyed.

On Earth Day, environmental activists will gather in places defined by concrete and asphalt and call for politically guided policies on the environment.

The simple truth, however, is that their approach is stuck in a failed 1970s mindset that actively opposes new technology, choosing to focus instead on political control and symbolic gestures.

For many Conservatives, on the other hand, every day is Earth Day, because they are constantly finding ways to become more efficient and to do more with less. Earth Day offers a good opportunity to highlight three key differences between the political approach of the left and the free market innovation of conservatives.

Key Difference #1: Technology or Life Restrictions?

Ask an environmental activist how to help the planet and he will likely lecture you on how to change your life – ride light rail, live in a smaller house, have only one child. A recent editorial in the Bellingham Herald from two activists, including a former PBS producer, noted:

“With changes in the way we use products, greater sharing of wealth, resources and working hours, we can do this. All that is lacking is the will to do it.”

The authors and other activists on the left suggest that we can generate “the will” with government force. The record of that approach, however, has been quite poor. People don’t ride light rail. Housing restrictions have driven prices up while encouraging sprawl.

Conservatives, however, support creating technology that allows everyone to do more with less, while living the American Dream.

The very symbol of the environmental movement, the Toyota Prius, is a free-market innovation that allows people to live their lives while using less gas. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon years after the Prius became a proven success. They followed the trend. They did not create it.

The power of technology is on dramatic display at a timber mill.  Each log is first scanned by a laser to maximize the amount of finished lumber that can be cut from it. The bark is saved and sold for landscaping purposes. Waste chips are turned into particle board. Even the sawdust is collected and used to provide power for the mill. The ethic of using every part of the animal that environmentalists praise in Native Americans is at the very center of running a modern timber mill.

As we look at real environmental improvements, politicians are quick to take credit where private sector technology, not government activism, was the real hero.

Tomorrow’s Key Difference #2: Results or Symbolic Gestures?

Todd has 14 years of experience in environmental policy and is currently a member of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council and is Environmental Director at the Washington Policy Center. He previously worked for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. He uses his mastery over nature as a beekeeper, tending three hives of honeybees.

 Todd is the author of “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment” which Dr. Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute called “the best psychology book you’ve ever read.”