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A Green Manifesto

January 24, 2000

By Peter W. Huber

The Left claims the earth on its side of the political balance. Herewith, an environmental platform for the Right. We reaffirm the long conservative tradition of creating parks, husbanding wildlife and venerating natural heritages of every kind.

Scarcity. There is no inherent scarcity of food, fuel, metals, minerals or space to bury our trash. We undoubtedly will exhaust some resources, someday. But we will grow, find or invent others to replace them.

Agriculture. A pest-resistant corn that doubles the farmer’s yield saves something that is environmentally important--land itself. Fertilizers, pesticides, packaging and preservatives permit us to capture more food from the sun, more efficiently, using less land. “Organic” food requires more land to produce--and therefore displaces more wilderness.

Energy. The greenest fuels are the ones that extract the most energy from the least land. Per unit of power produced, “soft” fuels--biomass, solar and wind--usually consume more material, labor and--above all--land. Policies that promote such fuels over “hard” alternatives do not protect the environment, they hasten its destruction. We support land-frugal sources of energy: fossil and nuclear fuels.

Pollution. Issuing permits in quantities that mirror established patterns of activity and use is usually the best and most economically efficient way to cut pollution. The market then develops competitive substitutes for permits--pollution abatement technology. The more freely people can buy, sell and trade pollution, the more pollution we will abate. Government and private associations can trade in such markets, too, buying up permits and retiring them. Conservation is generally the cheapest, most effective and most pleasant way to eliminate trace pollutants. The most beautiful way to purify water is probably the most effective, too: Maintain unspoiled watersheds. The best way to suck carbon out of the air is to grow trees. Because of forest regrowth made possible by high-tech (land-frugal) agriculture, the North American continent removes about as much carbon dioxide from the air as it emits by burning fossil fuels.

Efficiency. We reject the vague notion that what you save in the more efficient refrigerator will somehow translate into meaningful saving of wilderness. We do not believe that the way to conserve lakes, trees, mountains and prairies is for the government to prescribe how we use gasoline, newspaper pulp, aluminum and glass, still less to require us to sift and sort endlessly through our trash.

Wealth. Wealth, not poverty, supplies the means to conserve wildlife, forest, seashore and ocean. The charge that the rich are the despoilers, the exhausters, the expropriators of the planet’s biological wealth is altogether false. Wealth, not poverty, is what gives people the means and the will to conserve the wilderness.

Parkland. We support private conservation wholeheartedly and in preference to public projects wherever feasible. We recognize, however, that at some point the vastness of mountains, river archipelagos and coral reefs demands a scale of support that private undertakings cannot deliver. The legitimate way for state and federal governments to expand public conservation areas is to buy land. We reject regulation that effectively forces private owners to abandon their private property to wetland, wildlife or wilderness and that does so without just compensation. Wilderness areas should be expanded on a pay-as-you-go basis, with markets in control.

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