With rallying cries to continue funding scientific research and pursue eco-friendly policies, environmentalists are leading the charge against President Donald Trump and his perceived anti-science agenda. Mottos like “Science not Silence” and “#NoSidesInScience” are echoed on the March for Science website, and the activists are advocating for increased public funding and urging lawmakers to adhere to scientific evidence.
While the March for Science movement does claim to be non-partisan, it’s hard not to connect its emergence with the advent of the Trump administration and its plans to cut the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and other science and environmental programs.
There has been plenty of apocalyptic talk regarding the future of the environment over the past thirty years or so, particularly with regard to climate change. But the doom and gloom has reached a fever pitch now that Trump is president and the Republicans control both the House and the Senate.
For instance, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Denis Hayes, president and chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation and coordinator for the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, warned that, “Defunding science is the intellectual equivalent of eating our seed corn.” And Gina McCarthy, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, voiced her concerns in Cosmopolitan. She argued that the EPA has been vital in protecting the environment and warned that, “thanks to the Trump administration’s dangerous scorched-earth strategy, essential programs that keep us safe are at risk of being shut down.”
Many liberals believe the government is crucial for protecting the environment. But is government really the best means for achieving this goal? After all, it was the EPA that accidentally poisoned the Animas River in Colorado back in 2015, and the Tennessee Valley Authority has repeatedly gotten into hot water for their coal-fired plants, which have allegedly leaked toxic pollutants into nearby groundwater. Then there was the excruciatingly slow response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, where thousands of local residents drank contaminated water despite assurances from the local government that it was safe.
Government solutions rarely bear fruit; the free market and the innovation of individuals offer better solutions. Consider the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), which embodies the philosophy of free market environmentalism. PERC aims to protect the environment by focusing on property rights and the rule of law. As the website puts it:
“Property rights make the environment an asset rather than a liability by giving owners an incentive for stewardship…markets and the exchange process allow people with different priorities regarding the use of natural resources to cooperate rather than fight.”
Donald Leal, a Senior Fellow Emeritus with PERC and Terry Anderson, the former President and Executive Director of PERC, championed the partnership between the free market and environmentalism in their 1991 book Free Market Environmentalism. The authors pushed for free market solutions to environmental problems, such as supporting private water trusts and leasing fishing rights to fishermen. Writing for the Hoover Institution in 2015, Anderson sums up free market environmentalism this way: “The problem is that the environment, like the economy, is constantly in flux, and we humans have to adapt our actions to those changes. Tackling environmental problems requires agility, which is what entrepreneurship is all about.”
The government is not known for being agile. As Anderson points out, those with entrepreneurial spirit can react faster and with greater precision to a myriad of issues than government bureaucrats. A prime example is the advent of pop-up wetlands that help migratory birds struggling to make their lengthy journeys due to droughts find sanctuary. The Nature Conservancy has devised a plan to temporarily create wetlands for these migratory birds. By using a pilot program called BirdReturns, the Nature Conservancy creates pop-up wetlands by paying rice farmers to flood their fields. The program relies on satellite imagery, paired with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s crowdsourced bird watching program eBird, to determine which rice fields should be flooded. By offering payment to willing farmers, the Nature Conservancy manages to help migratory birds while also respecting private property rights.
Americans care about protecting the environment. An April 2017 Pew study found that 74 percent of Americans believe the country should do whatever it takes to protect the planet. In the same study, Pew found that 75 percent of Americans are concerned about protecting the environment, though only one in five ever take action or change how they live their lives. If people are serious about protecting the environment, they should consider free market environmentalism rather than leaving it to the government to save the day. Volunteering with nonprofit environmental organization is just one way to make a difference; people also can invest in eco-friendly companies or help fund Kickstarter green projects. Entrepreneurship, not government, is the best way to protect the environment.
Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal.