It may seem odd but it is possible to have too much of anything, even something with a “clean” image such as environmentalism. So how could anyone be opposed to more environmentalism? The answer is that it is not only possible to have too much of it, there may even be too much of it for the future welfare of the environmental movement itself.
Environmentalism essentially promotes government regulation of public use of environmental goods, which is often needed because of the economic incentives for people and industries to avoid paying to prevent pollution. All such regulation incurs costs for the public as well as business interests, however. These costs can be minor or very large. As argued in my new book, Environmentalism Gone Mad, (available from the book website), however, the aim of government should be to to make sure that the costs are justified by their economic benefits and that the control costs are optimized.
If the regulations are extremely costly, such as the current proposed regulations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) or the ban on DDT in 1972, it is often not possible to justify them. Unfortunately, as environemental regulation becomes ever more strict at the behest of radical environmental organizations and some government agencies that have been essentially “captured” by them, the problems created by over-regulation can only proliferate.
The Immense Costs of Banning DDT
In the case of DDT, the immense costs were not evident at the time. They were and are hidden, particularly since all of them have occurred in other countries far from the US and primarily take the lives and imperil the health of the poor and children in rural areas. In the 1960s great progress was being made in reducing malaria in these areas, for which DDT offers unique capabilities since the mosquitoes that carry the disease to humans are repelled by it. Environmentalists may not have realized all this, although I knew of some that did at the time. Many environmental organizations nevertheless pushed the US and most other countries to ban the use of the only inexpensive insecticide with this property. This did not impact the US, which had already eliminated the disease, but did impact many less developed countries.
One estimate of the losses are that more than 50 million deaths and widespread debilitating disease have resulted when they could have been avoided, all because of unwarranted fears concerning the environmental effects of a very safe pesticide, DDT. The US took the lead in instituting the ban and must bear the primary responsibility for these staggering losses. The USEPA did do thorough research on the issue, but the EPA Administrator at the time chose to ignore the findings, allegedly in response to pressure from a national environmental organization.
The Very Expensive and Useless CO2/Climate Regulations
A second horrific error has been made by environmental organizations, many developed country governments, and the United Nations by promoting reductions in the emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels to obtain energy that has made possible the high standard of living now found in developed countries. They claim that such reductions are necessary to avoid the alleged catastrophic effects on climate/extreme weather of a trace gas essential to life even though these alleged catastrophic effects do not satisfy the application of the scientific method. Some developed countries are now trying to impose these reductions on less developed countries, but encountering stiff opposition since the less developed countries realize that less CO2 emissions will result in less economic progress for their countries, an outcome which they strongly oppose. If “successful,” these efforts would primarily decrease living standards around the world, particularly among the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.
Implications for Environmental Policy
The only way to avoid such horrific blunders in environmental policy is by careful and independent attention to the science, economics, and law involved rather than responding to political pressures or current fads. In the case of the current CO2/climate issue EPA did essentially no independent research and instead relied on the reports of a United Nations agency, which got the science wrong. Western European nations have wasted vast sums and created huge problems for their electric power systems as a result. A few US states, particularly California, are doing the same thing, and there are already large subsidies for so-called “renewables” by the Federal Government as well. Now the Obama Administration is trying to require the rest of the states to drastically reduce their CO2 emissions, which would result in equally disastrous effects in these states as well.
The proposed symbolic reductions in CO2 emissions in the US will happen unless Congress or the courts intervene to stop EPA and the Administration from imposing these unjustified and immensely harmful CO2 emission regulations. Unfortunately, these are not the only examples of environmentalism gone mad. What is needed is a recognition that environmental and government regulatory organizations would be well advised to support only regulations that meet rigorous scientific, economic, and legal tests. Failure to do so will result in further disastrous efforts to control environmental quality that actually result in huge costs for little or no benefits.
The judgments expressed in this post as well as many other posts on this Website are carefully documented in my new book, Environmentalism Gone Mad.