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Why do so many 21st century environmentalists ignore the lessons of the 20th century?

Planning works when everyone can agree on their aims, but decentralised systems reconcile different interests better. 

Political decision-making favours short-term solutions and the interests of well-organised groups. The poor, and those who care about the future do better to trust the market. 

Collective ownership is usually wasteful - the tragedy of the commons. Conservationists should avoid creating new commons and where possible turn natural ones such as fisheries and forests over to private ownership. 

If politicians refrain from interfering, the market will ensure that the eventual users make the best use of resources. 

Rights to compensation for pollution should be freely marketed.  Under relatively simple institutional constraints the person who comes to own the rights will be the one who can reduce pollution most cheaply. 

Much environmental wisdom is bound up in traditional institutions and practices which may appear cruel or wasteful to modern eyes. Well-meaning efforts to improve things often have environmentally harmful consequences.

Few environmentalists have taken these lessons to heart. Even governments that have painfully learnt the virtues of the market for the rest of economic activity all too easily backslide to an easy collectivism on the environment. 

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth advocate planned limits to fossil fuel burning rather than markets in carbon quotas.   The latter would achieve the same effect more cheaply or a larger benefit at the same cost.  
Populist politicians try to prohibit traditional hunting practices both in rural Tory shires, and by primitive peoples in Greenland. 
Tax-funded roads, rural bus services, childcare subsidies*, common agricultural policies, foreign aid, national health services, and state parks, all create new commons. Whether or not they are desirable for other reasons they are harmful to the environment.  

iGreens aim to maintain the environment by reminding people of these lessons, and ensuring that they are applied by those in power. Since iGreens respect the legitimate interests both of the present generation and of all economic and social groups, they are likely to have greater long-term effect than environmentalists who advocate more radical simplistic solutions.

If you're new to iGreens try these three articles.

Return the Streets click here

Cleaner beaches click here

Farewell Concorde click here

 

But iGreens.org.uk is more than an environmentalist site.  We write about the East Midlands with snippets of geology and geography.  We love poetry, canoeing, and the cathedrals of England.  We love Israel, the USA, Pakistan, Poland and Australia.  

* People keep asking how childcare subsidies might harm the environment.  The short answer is that state childcare subsidy lowers the cost of rearing children. This increases the birth rate and more people damage the environment.    

Of course it is not quite as simple as that.   Complicated effects roll out from a policy like childcare subsidy.  More people might be good for the environment.  Freeing women to work may have good or bad effects.  But ultimately, government expenditure prevents the economy from achieving the best balance between environmental damage and the benefits of human activity.  

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Last modified: November 12, 2006