Part 3: This Earth Day, bring environmental policy into the 21st century

Yesterday was Earth Day. Below is the third part of a three-part column by Todd Myers. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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

The image of pollution the left likes to promote is of a few smokestacks or pipes polluting the air and water. That image, however, hasn’t been true for decades. Today, the impact on the environment is dispersed and the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

Politicians love grand gestures. They require that all schools meet “green” building standards. They provide massive subsidies for solar panels they can point to with pride. They ban plastic grocery bags.

This grand approach, however, doesn’t work.

Schools have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to meet “green” building requirements, even though they admit the schools are often less efficient. The state spends millions to put solar panels on buildings, even though solar energy is extremely wasteful and reduces tiny amounts of carbon emissions. Cities ban plastic grocery bags, even though every alternative uses far more energy and the ban means people must buy alternative bags to pick up after pets and line trashcans.

Contrast that costly and ineffective approach with a system that gives everyone the choice of how to reduce environmental impact in their own life.

Want to use less gasoline? Perhaps you can telecommute. Or carpool. Or buy a hybrid or even electric car. Or you could even use a ridesharing service – the very approach that Seattle is desperately trying to limit.

Worried about plastic bottles? You can buy a Brita water filter and fill up your own bottle.  Brita ads even highlight the benefit of using fewer bottles. Or you could buy a PlantBottle, created by Coca-Cola using renewable resources to reduce the use of oil. Or you could buy an Aquafina “eco-shape” bottle that uses much less plastic, saving money and using fewer resources.

It is hard, however, to take political credit for the free choice of consumers. No politician can take credit for creating the PlantBottle. No bureaucracy can brag about someone who chooses to telecommute.

The environment doesn’t care who gets the credit. The environment only cares about results. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

Earth Day was created in 1970. Many of who will celebrate are stuck in a mindset of the Nixon era and the economic downturn of the Carter years.

A conservative, free-market approach can bring environmental policy into the 21st century. An environmental ethic built on creative technology, reducing waste and personal solutions is not only more environmentally effective, it embraces the values at the heart of conservative thinking.

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.”