Efforts to protect the environment in America have ignored the most powerful force for improving the environment: free people. The results of these misguided policies have been higher energy prices, lower incomes, less access to resources, and technological stagnation—often failing to produce tangible environmental benefits.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with fellow experts on the environment, has published a new benchmark for progress: the American Conservation Ethic.
The Ethic reflects every American’s aspiration to make the environment cleaner, healthier, and safer for future generations. It is based on eight basic principles that were first published in 1996 and provides a roadmap to environmentally sound prosperity.
Much of the policy that has come to guide American actions on the environment is not based on scientific integrity. Heritage’s Dr. David Kreutzer and Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist formerly with NASA who is a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, examine this in a chapter on carbon dioxide:
Any discussion of carbon dioxide regulation must begin by noting two facts: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions have likely contributed to the observed warming of the past 50 years. The calls for CO2 regulation, however, are not based on these facts; rather, the current regulatory hysteria is the result of misinformation regarding the projected future levels of warming, as well as exaggerations over how much any future warming could be attributed to anthropogenic CO2. In addition, extreme weather events are increasingly attributed to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, despite a lack of evidence for any long-term change in these events.
Each chapter analyzes the effectiveness of the policies the U.S. has been pursuing and makes recommendations for moving forward with smart solutions that fix the problems of years past, protect and bolster individual property rights, and provide real benefits. The American Conservation Ethic addresses these major issues:
- Expansion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The current EPA is on an unprecedented regulatory spree that jeopardizes electric reliability, jobs, U.S. competitiveness, and state economies. How can we reform it?
- Regulating carbon dioxide. Though it is colorless, odorless, non-toxic, and critical to photosynthesis, carbon dioxide (CO2) has been rebranded as a pollutant harmful to human health. This transformation—based on exaggeration and misinformation—is now fueling misguided calls for CO2 regulation.
- Property ownership and land management. The federal government owns nearly one-third of the United States, and it continues to take more through regulatory takings of private property. There is no way the government can manage that amount of land with good stewardship. Recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined individual property rights, pointing to a need for Congress to act to protect what the Framers of the Constitution called “the guardian of every other right.”
- Effectiveness of environmental legislation. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act have been governing much of environmental policy for the last few decades. This has given experts time to assess the consequences—both intended and unintended—of these laws. The authors address ways that these laws are now out of sync with the environmental, political, social, and economic realities of today, and what should be done about it.
- Thinking globally, acting locally. How does the United Nations affect environmental policy here in America? The authors address the need for local and regional management of environmental issues so that those closest to the resources are responsible for managing them.
What is the point of environmental policy? The Ethic states that:
Environmental policies should inspire people to be good stewards. Through human creativity, we develop new sources of needed materials, more efficient means of collecting them, or substitutes for them—as well as the technology necessary to do so.
Economic growth is positively correlated with life expectancy, which is one of the most critical measurements of environmental policies—are people better off? There is a direct and positive relationship between free-market economies and a clean, healthy, and safe environment. Ownership inspires stewardship. To put this to work for our Earth and our people, we must work to decouple conservation policies from government regulation.