Thoughts on the ‘Earth First’ Principle

The perils of subscribing to a singular political ideology are pretty obvious to those who care to care to dissect political rhetoric to expose the underlying fundamental beliefs of each of these systems. I have written about this earlier here. The reason I bring this up once again is because I find myself having arrived at an odd synthesis of two very opposite belief systems. I have spent most of my time recently trying to apply to several institutions overseas to study. Having written the first draft of of my Sop I sent it to be critiqued by a friend. He made the following observation: “You Sop contains inherent contradictions. You cannot claim to be a libertarian/free-market supporter and a believer of environmentalism in the same breath.”.I disagree. This webpage will tell you that I am wrong. I still disagree… We’re dealing with a notion here. Environmentalism is not anti-technology. It doesn’t seek to take away from, or disregard human achievement. All it suggests is that perhaps for our own benefit we might want to use technology ‘appropriately’. One doesn’t have to be anti-market to understand this. Environmentalism is important- why? Because it ties together several things. The inefficient allocation and usage of resources for example and more importantly it affects people’s lives directly. Hunger, lack of clean water, land pressure and social conflicts are all threads of the larger environmental debate. The argument is not in any sense merely about granting rights to animals alone let alone about giving a greater priority to animal or ecological welfare over human welfare.

What it is about, however, is how we are very much a part of the ecological system and are stupidly destroying it for ourselves. What is of consequence are the strategies involved. How can we remedy the situation? Does factoring environmental concerns necessarily mean turning away from production and giving up technology? NO! As a matter of fact a free market, capitalist system makes for a far more environmentally friendly system than any other. The world would have been much the happier and greener had the state never interfered to protect the ‘environment’ in the first place. Much of history’s greatest disasters are manufactured by the state. The Holocaust, The Russian revolution, Slavery and so on and so forth. In a similar vein much of what we classify as the ‘global ecological crisis’ could have been prevented.

The free market solution is rather straightforward. Which is too say that all un-owned property is subject to the tragedy of the commons. So let’s give every piece of property a owner, a private steward– someone who will care and who will get hurt if that resource gets depleted because in some sense it provides revenue. What is the other alternative? Let the government ration how much and what public resource we use. There are issues concerning liberty here- but let’s leave those aside for now. What would happen (or happens) if this was the case? It would serve the purpose in the short-term but in the long term, vested interests will ensure that people find a way to work around this.

Of course one may argue that most private efforts in history– the electric bulb and making cities electrified, cars and highways etc. are actually put to use and practice by governments. If all land was to be private property how would massive construction of railway lines or interstate transport systems take place? Good question. But all you need is a little imagination to figure this one out. Just because the government implemented it doesn’t mean private enterprise cannot.

The trouble is that governments work through a bad combination of regulations, monopolies, monopsonies and brute force of the Bastiat argument. Government actions which are massive in scope and scale displace a lot of what voluntary associations of civil society could have achieved. Look at this way, in a welfarist democracy if your demand is the demand of the many you win because public policy favours you. If you are in the minority then you can just go take a hike. Or wait- you’d have to apply for clearance first! In a free market situation with plenty of competition– if your demand is not satisfied from one player, it will be catered to by another. Everyone wins.

In India too, too many environmental problems have to do with sloppy governance and state initiated monopolies. The Narmada dam for instance– give the building contract to one company without a bid and without public scrutiny. The Bhopal gas tragedy– – much compensation hasn’t reached the victims…

PERC does an excellent job of telling us how private protection just might be answer to valid environmental concerns. This book has some interesting stories on a new phenomenon called ‘Natural Capitalism’.