Part 2: This Earth Day, bring environmental policy into the 21st century

Today is Earth Day. Below is the second part of a three-part column by Todd Myers. You can read Part 1 here.

Key Difference #2: Results or Symbolic Gestures?

If you listen to Governor Inslee talk about climate change, the word you hear most is “leadership.” Leadership for politicians, however, is just another word for symbolic gesture. The purpose is to show others you care, not to actually help the environment.

Ironically, the more wasteful and futile the gesture, the more powerful it is symbolically. When political projects fail, politicians hold them up as symbols of how committed they are, arguing that drastic times call for drastic measures. Who could doubt their seriousness about an issue when they are willing to risk so much?

Take for example, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ effort to get cities to reduce carbon emissions. In 2005, he encouraged cities to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement – a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. Of the 32 cities that signed the agreement, only 14 even took the first step called for by the agreement. None actually met the promised targets, including Seattle, where the effort began.

The goal of the Climate Protection Agreement, however, was never to help the environment. For more than half the mayors the goal was simply to send a press release showing their concern for the environment.

Conservatives, however, value results over cheap (or expensive) symbolism.

Unlike government, families who waste money on projects that don’t save energy or resources still have to pay for those resources. Failure is costly and there is direct accountability.

When Westin Hotel managers wanted to reduce water use, they didn’t simply put a sign in the room shaming you into reusing your towels. Westin offered guests five dollars for every day they did not have their room cleaned and sheets changed. The result was significant, with hotels reducing water use by twenty percent.

Many on the left go to great lengths to make a public display of how much they care about the environment, but those who truly care about natural resources ensure we actually achieve environmental goals and demand accountability for failure.

Tomorrow’s Key Difference #3: Personalized Approaches or One-Size Fits All?

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.”