‘Blue’ Environmentalism

It was one of the earliest -- and most graphic -- attempts to blame too many people for too much pollution. In his classic book Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich described an evening he spent in Delhi, India: "The streets seemed alive with people," he writes. "People eating, people washing . . . people defecating and urinating . . . As we moved slowly through the mob . . . the dust, noise, heat, and cooking fires gave the scene a hellish aspect." The solution, Ehrlich concluded, was compulsory population control. One astute observer -- theologian Michael Novak -- says the problem is not too many people; it's too much poverty. And the most effective way to lift the poor out of poverty -- and thus cut down on pollution -- is by promoting capitalism, private enterprise, and freedom, what Novak calls "the ecology of liberty." As Novak writes in National Review, "Where people are poor, environmental conditions tend to be abysmal. And if the twentieth century proved anything, it was that the best way to end poverty isn't red -- the color of socialism -- but blue, the color of liberty, personal initiative, and enterprise." For instance, worldwide, more than a billion people live without clean drinking water. This is especially true in Africa, thanks to perpetual civil wars, dishonest governments, and badly managed finances. Of course, Africa faces technical challenges to clean water -- but there is no reason why these challenges cannot be conquered, as they have been elsewhere, Novak writes. But this will only happen if other obstacles -- political, cultural, and economic -- are addressed using economic incentives. For instance, Africans have become accustomed to subsidized or no-cost water. Meanwhile, those who pollute water -- farmers and industries -- pay no price for doing so. Thus, there is no incentive to save and protect clean water. The result: Water is treated recklessly. The solution is not fewer people polluting, but rather to create incentives for conscientious use and penalties for irresponsible use of water. Those who build and maintain treatment facilities could be offered financial incentives, and polluters could be penalized. Bringing clean water to the whole world requires imagination and enterprise, capital and organizational skills, Novak says. The institutions best equipped to supply these elements are in the corporate business sector. But in all cases, Novak notes, "Blue Environmentalism encourages the highest possible level of practicality and private enterprise." This principle -- which applies to all environmental concerns -- is why one of the guiding principles of "Blue Environmentalism" must be liberty. We must create markets that feature a healthy dose of both positive and negative incentives that work in the interest of both people and the environment. When people make free choices, Novak writes, "they normally calculate the costs and benefits of their actions. These costs and benefits should be so aligned as to promote the common good, while respecting free choice." Rather than blame the poor, we need to support solutions that will lift them out of poverty and out of their own polluted environments. The best way to do that is by promoting "the ecology of liberty." For further reading: Michael Novak, "Blue Is True," National Review, 10 March 2003 (as posted on American Enterprise Institute's website). Listen to a speech, "Blue Environmentalism," Michael Novak delivered at Pepperdine University on January 28, 2003. William F. O'Keefe, "Are Resources Finite in a World of Unlimited Intelligence?" Acton Institute, November 15-16, 1999. Robert Royal, Ph.D., "Environmental Virtues -- and Vices," Religion & Liberty, March/April 2002. Richard Louv, "Onward, faith-based environmentalists," San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 March 2003. Learn more about A Rocha, a Christian nature conservation organization located in the United Kingdom. Roberto Rivera, "You Are That Man!", BreakPoint Online, 5 March 2003. Charles A. Donovan, "Focusing on the Family," BreakPoint Online, 19 February 2003.


Chuck Colson



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