A Clean Environment Requires Freedom, Prosperity, and Ethics
Alan Hahn
Man walking through field.

The larger question is, What can be done to facilitate a healthy environment? This is a complicated question, but if we carefully examine the relatively short environmental protection history of mankind, I believe the blueprint for success involves freedom, prosperity, and ethics. 

Just as we need to acknowledge there is no perfect solution to environmental protection, we also need to acknowledge that only if a nation and its businesses (including agriculture) are prosperous can there be hope of environmental protection. Protection of the environment costs money (in some cases, a lot of money), so the necessary capital is critical. 

Freedom is Essential 
According to Gallup, the United States remains the most-desired nation for potential immigrants.  And the American Institute for Economic Research says the reason is, “Put simply, individual freedom.” Freedom, which so many around the globe hunger for and can be easily eroded or lost, is not optional if we want the best chance for a healthy environment.   

In the book The Poverty of Nations, the authors’ state, “A free-market society with a combination of private ownership of most land and resources, and public ownership of some designated national and state parks, seems best suited to preservation of resources and wise use of the environment.” 

The late Sir Roger Scruton put it this way, “We know that communism has been the cause of far greater ecological disasters than we have witnessed under capitalism.”  To be fair, Scruton also acknowledges that unscrupulous and corrupt behavior in free markets has resulted in ecological disasters.  

More Laws Won’t Help 
For freedom to “work,” there is a catch. John Adams, our nation’s second President, stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Freedom requires an agreed-upon ethic. 

Our laws and regulations with respect to environmental protection are of little value if there is not a sense of right, wrong, and overall ethic. There are not enough state and federal regulators to go to every regulated entity and make sure they are in compliance. 

Prosperity Provides Better Protections 
While acknowledging no system of government is foolproof, prosperity that is best nurtured in a free market allows for greater protections. For example, in 2017, the United Nations reported, “On average, high-income countries treat about 70% of the municipal and industrial wastewater they generate. That ratio drops to 38% in upper middle-income countries and to 28% in lower middle-income countries. In low-income countries, only 8% undergoes treatment of any kind.”  

So do the citizens in developing nations lack the desire or ethic to properly manage potentially-dangerous sewage? Of course not – they lack the prosperity, and likely the freedom to become more prosperous, that would allow for proper management of sewage.    

The Best Hope for a Healthy Environment 
Farmers, manufacturers, private citizens – we all play a role in environmental protection. And while many well-meaning environmentalists strive for a utopian society where there is no pollution, this ignores reality. We always have, and will, generate waste from sewage discharges, to refuse, and chemical waste. The question isn’t about whether we generate waste, it’s about what gives us the best chance to manage this waste.  

Freedom, prosperity, and ethics have proven to provide us the best hope for a healthy environment. If we value a clean environment, we must protect our freedoms and value and encourage a government that allows for prosperity. With respect to ethics, it starts at home.  Returning to John Adams, “The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families.”  And everyone plays a role in this part of the equation.

To view the article in the online 2020 Spring Partners Magazine, click here.

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