To Commemorate Earth Day, a Guest Post From The Heritage Foundation

The New York City sightseeing company Gray Line is promoting an “Earth Week” package of day trips that includes visits to “green spots” like the botanical gardens and flower shopping at Chelsea Market. The fact that these tours will be taken on buses running on fossil fuels does not sit well with the first Earth Day national coordinator Denis Hayes who tells The New York Times what he thinks of such green consumerism: “This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green. It is tragic.”

The left in this country has always considered it “tragic” when people make money in this country, and the plight of the earth is just one of many justifications they have used over the years to demonize free markets. Back in the 70s, President Barack Obama’s Director for Science and Technology Policy John Holdren even came up with a formula to measure capitalism’s evil impact on the environment: I=PAT, which means that environmental impact is equal to population multiplied by affluence multiplied by technology. Thus according to the left, protecting the planet requires fewer people, less wealth and simpler technology. But this is just flat wrong. In fact, studies clearly show that important indicators of environmental quality actually improve as incomes and levels of consumption go up.

But this begs the question: what are the best policies that promote economic growth? Economic freedom. New research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows — over the last 40 years — a strong connection between the worldwide march toward greater economic freedom and the massive reduction in poverty. And our own Index of Economic Freedom demonstrates empirically that today’s successful economies are not necessarily geographically large or richly blessed with natural resources. Instead, the proven path to stimulating economic growth is to advance economic freedom by promoting policies that generate a virtuous cycle of innovation, vibrant economic expansion, and more opportunities for people.

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Specifically, the expansion of trade and the protection of property rights are fundamental to ensuring economic growth and environmental improvement. A recent study from the World Bank reports that freer trade is “a key factor in helping developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.” And assigning clear property rights for natural resources like the world’s fisheries have proven environmental gain.

But while the government is essential in opening up trade and protecting property rights, further regulations are unnecessary and often prove harmful. For example, our air and water were already improving before the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Meanwhile the Endangered Species Act has actually created perverse incentives for land owners to destroy or degrade their own land before a government-protected animal moves in and renders it economically useless.

And then there is the left’s push for economy-killing energy taxes. The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis has found that cap-and-tax legislation pending in Congress would cost the average family-of-four almost $3,000 per year, cause 2.5 million net job losses by 2035, and a produce a cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) loss of $9.4 trillion between 2012 and 2035. Losing that $9.4 trillion to appease the fragile sensibilities of the enviro-left – now that would be tragic.