Paul Jacob

It’s Earth Day, so . . . half a cheer. Though I appreciate the pagan holidays as much as the next fellow (Arbor Day, Independence Day, Halloween — all good fun), may I express some worry over those participants who seem more interested in promoting their own feckless self-righteousness than anything else?

We all want to breathe clean air, drink clear water. Who doesn’t want to be able to run barefoot in the grass or sand without calculating the odds of disease, infection, or poisoning? Were Earth Day a celebration of just that — an awareness of the need to protect ourselves against toxins and litter and decay — I’d say: raise up the flags or wind socks or what-have-you and celebrate!

But Earth Day is political, too. And, because of that, it can be as irrational as a Kardashian mayoral campaign.

Somewhere, some college student will hoist up an effigy of “capitalism” in a death mask and impute to it Earth-killing properties. Somewhere, an earnest, aging collegian will paint tears on her cheek to warn of the fated extinction of the polar bear or snail darter or marbled murrelet or latest trendy critter. And there will be chanting, yes, chanting . . .

One thing we are sure to hear is how evil corporations are for not wanting to be regulated, followed by pleas to resist any suggestion of changing the laws in ways that might favor the vile corporations.

And it’s here where the muddle is most in evidence.

Environmental laws are very human constructs. They are not examples of divine intervention set to doing one thing and one thing only, “saving the environment.” (Indeed, it's a truism of ecology: “You cannot do just one thing.”) There’s been a problem with the laws that came into being right around the first “Earth Day” in 1970. And this original “sin” is getting more and more obvious.

The trouble with environmental legislation in the U.S. has been the will to micromanage. Instead of setting standards (cleaner water, cleaner air) or procedures (property rights, tort rules, standing in pollution cases) the federal government, along with the bulk of the states that piled on, has prohibited some activity or technologies, and mandated others.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.