Editor's note: This piece was authored by Jeff Luse.
In the world of politics it seems that very few things are enjoyed by both sides of the aisle. In the space of climate and energy policy this is especially true. Despite this dichotomy, there seems to be one thing that conservatives and progressives can both agree on, the importance of Earth Day.
Earth Day, which was officially recognized in 1970, has enjoyed bipartisan support and received praise from presidents of both political parties. Historically presidential speeches have included complimentary language on America’s progress and economic ingenuity. In his 1993 Earth Day speech, for instance, President Clinton said, “First, we think you can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment…The fact is that only a prosperous society can have the confidence and the means to protect its environment.”
While this type of rhetoric is still expressed by some of our nation’s leaders, the broader environmental movement has seemed to have turned its back on Clinton’s pro-market, pro-environmental message. Domestically, activists are lobbying for big-government solutions including a mandated shift from fossil fuels entirely. Internationally, groups are leveling up their American counterparts and endorsing panic outright.
To reach the environmental goals of cleaner air, water, and a sustainable planet, expanding economic freedom is the answer.
Economic freedom, which The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom measuresby a country’s rule of law, size of government, regulatory efficiency, and market openness, has been shown to improve the health of the planet and its people. In a C3 Solutions report called “Free Economies are Clean Economies,” we found that “mostly free” economies, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Index scored twice as high on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index than “mostly unfree” economies.
The Free Economies report is not the only one to make this connection. The Fraser Institute in Canada, which also catalogs a country by country ranking of economic freedom, found in a 2014 study that a “permanent one-point increase in the Economic Freedom of the World index results in a 7.15% decrease in concentrations of fine particulate matter in the long-run, holding all else equal.”
This decrease in fine particulate matter is no accident, it’s caused by prosperity. As people and societies move up the economic ladder, they are able to focus on more than just providing for basic needs. Instead they are able to invest in more expensive climate measures such as energy efficient windows or modern and fuel efficient-vehicles.
Free enterprise, which drives this prosperity, also incentivizes competition, creating innovation. Solutions stemming from competition include hydraulic fracturing and the fracking revolution which led to America becoming the world leader in total emissions reductions since 2000. As George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux succinctly puts it, we are “cleaned by capitalism.”
A pro-growth environmental movement could do wonders in addressing climate change today and curbing warming in the future. As the Energy Information Administration projects in its 2021 Annual Energy Outlook, the majority of future emissions will come from developing countries that are not a part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). These nations aren’t going to seriously invest in carbon reduction measures until it is in their best economic interest to do so.
Certainly economic growth alone can not solve every major environmental issue, but combatting a massive problem like climate change will require innovative solutions that can be scaled up in a timely and affordable manner. Free enterprise and economic freedom provide the most effective pathway in doing so.
Promoting panic and central planning to solve our greatest environmental challenges will ultimately be unsuccessful and only increase global and political temperatures. Durable climate solutions will require innovation in lieu of central planning, and prosperity rather than poverty. If we want to truly make a change this Earth Day we must embrace economic freedom.
Jeff Luse is a Young Voices contributor and Policy Assistant at the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions (C3 Solutions)