Incentivizing conservation

Free market environmentalism offers a different approach to solving environmental concerns.

by Joshua Villa

Since the creation of the national park system in the early 1900s, to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s, and todayâÄôs proposals for carbon taxes, Americans have generally turned to the government for solutions to environmental problems. However, a new free market approach could archive the same results while being far more effective and cost efficient.

The truth is that the free market can help protect the environment more effectively than the U.S. government has, according to various studies from organizations like the Thoreau Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

The Endangered Species Act was designed to “Conserve endangered species and threatened species.” Since its creation, 1,138 action plans to recover endangered/threatened species have been created. However, only 20 of the more than 1,300 species listed have been delisted because they have recovered.

A main provision of the bill is that if a species is on your property you have to report it and then not interfere with it in any way.

The problem is that this incentivizes property owners, specifically those who use their property to make a living, to lie about the inhabitation of an endangered species on their property and then to kill or relocate it.

Furthermore, a study done by the Heritage Foundation found the best way to increase the amount of endangered species recovered while simultaneously protecting the property rights of landowners is to use a system of compensation for land used as an animalâÄôs habitat.

Legislators, such as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who agree with the ideals of free market environmentalism would propose eliminating the Endangered Species Act, which incentivizes landowners to harm the species.

The Endangered Species Act would be replaced with a private Biodiversity Trust Fund.

While the specifics of a Biodiversity Trust Fund have to be determined by policymakers, it would likely be a nonprofit organization that would collect donations from individuals, corporations and foundations and use that money to protect the habitat of endangered species by compensating landowners based on the amount of their land that is a habitat for an endangered species.

The Biodiversity Trust Fund is far from the only free market solution dealing with endangered species. While legalizing the farming of endangered species sounds counterintuitive, it actually is a creative solution.

Those who raise these species have an interest in selling a certain commodity of the animal (meat, fur, etc.). As such, there is an economic incentive to keep the species alive so as to ensure future income. This is exactly why the cow will never go extinct. This same model could be used to prevent the extinction of other endangered species.

The question becomes what is the primary goal of environmental policy? If it is the restoration of endangered species to their original habitats, the Biodiversity Trust Fund is a sound solution. If the concern is about simply keeping various species alive while needing to use what was formerly their habitat for another purpose, the farming proposal would serve these ends.

With either of the above solutions, the American people will need to decide what comes out of environmental policy, and no matter what they decide, the free market can help achieve those goals.

The protection of endangered species is not the only environmental concern that can be solved with the free market. Land management, air/water pollution and resource depletion, among other concerns, can all be addressed âÄî arguably better than they are now âÄî using the free market.

While legislators around the nation may not necessarily identify themselves as free market environmentalists, there have been a number of bills âÄî notably the Clean Air Act under President George W. Bush âÄî that propose environmental deregulation similar to what a free market environmentalist would support.

While this may sound like deregulation proponents donâÄôt support keeping the environment in a good condition, regulation does not equate to real protection of the environment, although proponents of increased regulation frame the debate in this manner.

As we see with the Endangered Species Act, the regulations provide incentives to landowners that potentially hurt the very animals the law intends to save.

Furthermore, deregulation doesnâÄôt mean that our environment will be exploited. Property owners understand that the health of communal areas like lakes and streams are vital to the value of their own property and have a vested interest to keep them clean. Additionally, like the Biodiversity Trust Fund mentioned earlier, a private trust fund, funded by those who use or live on a lake, for example, can help fund the cleaning and conservation efforts on their lake.

Residents of a certain area can work together to efficiently protect their local environment based directly on their wants and needs. Just because deregulation occurs on the federal level doesnâÄôt mean that the environment will suffer.

While there are examples of failures with government regulation of the environment, it must be noted that there arenâÄôt very many case studies of free market environmentalism.

This doesnâÄôt mean that it wonâÄôt work. There are many advantages to employing free market environmentalism, and it could be better for the environment than the methods currently employed by the U.S. government.


Josh Villa welcomes comments at [email protected].