The role of government in environmental protection | Grist
1 Aug 2006 1:46 AM
The role of government in environmental protection
By Jason D Scorse There is an ongoing debate about the appropriate role of government for solving environmental problems, with many environmentalists calling for increased government intervention and many people more predisposed to individual responsibility calling for less. Without getting into a long discussion on political and economic philosophy (for now), here are a few observations on this important topic: 1. Proponents of classic liberalism — property rights, free markets, the rule of law, individual freedom — assume that as information improves, private markets will lead to the increased preservation of environmental resources, and that externalities (e.g., pollution) will be internalized (e.g., taken into account by private actors) given a system of strong property rights. While much improvement in the environmental arena has occurred for this very reason, and much of this is due to property rights and better scientific knowledge, many famous economists vastly under-estimated the level of coordination required to tackle some of the world’s most serious environmental problems. Issues such as global warming and the loss of biodiversity require much more government intervention then had previously been assumed. This is not to say that this government intervention won’t rely heavily on the workings of the market system, but only that top-down regulation is absolutely necessary. There is simply no way to adequately address these issues without a strong commitment from the federal government, which will eventually include a high level of international cooperation. Policies such as absolute limits on CO2, government funding of alternative-energy systems, and coordinated efforts to purchase and protect biodiversity hotspots around the world will need to be a major component of future government policy. 2. Facing...