The PJ Tatler

Capitalism Saves the Environment Better Than the Government

Many free-market naysayers often falsely claim that capitalism causes massive pollution, deforestation, and other environmental disasters as part of their rationale for regulating businesses. To the contrary, environmental safety and sustainability exist in large parts because of free markets and capitalism. Thanks to property rights, technological innovation, and private philanthropy, society doesn’t need government to protect our natural resources. Especially with the White House’s recent Climate Change Report release alarming about the effects of climate change happening now, it’s imperative to protect the environment with free market empowerment.
One technology alone has saved more trees than any government regulation ever has — the zip drive. Think of the Mad Men area when offices were using paper for everything, invoices, mail, projects, and notes. The uncountable sheets of paper that one device has saved and will continue to save the planet is a picture perfect testament to how the capitalist system saves the environment. Email, cloud computing, and file sharing through resources like Google docs has saved even more trees and stopped even more pollution from being made from paper factories.One common economics concept known as the tragedy of the commons illustrates that the environment is better protected through property rights than government regulations because businesses and individuals have a vested interest in maintaining the long-term sustainability of things they own. When property is owned by either everybody or nobody, it nearly always falls into disrepair because no one has a vested interested in taking the steps to maintaining the resource when anyone else can exploit it. This is why public property like parks are often scattered with litter, have overfull trash cans, and nasty bathrooms. The same could happen to the earth if we put our trust completely in the government to fix our environmental ills.Private philanthropy is also a major component of free-market environmentalism. Private companies like Chegg, an online textbook rental and study aid company, have helped the environment based on their own free will and philanthropic desires. No government agency demanded or regulated this into existence; Chegg alone has planted over five millions trees!

In fact, even individuals can make an environmental difference in saving the environment through the market. One man named Hank Fischer with a passion for saving grey wolves provides an excellent example. Wolves were nearly extinct in the American and put on the endangered species list in 1974. Fischer talked to local cattle ranchers and learned that they were killing wolves for purely economic reasons — the animals were killing their livestock. By securing private donations from Defenders of WIldlife members in Montana, Fischer was able to establish funds to reimburse ranchers for lost livestock. He secured more private funding by having an artist named Monte Dolack paint posters of how Yellowstone would look like with wolves back in it. Dolack alone raised over fifty thousand dollars. Through this process, ranchers allowed the wolves on their private property and helped not only bring wolves back to the American west, but got wolves off the endangered species list in 2013. Bringing back wolves help the local ecology and the environment thanks largely to one man’s valiant efforts and use of free-markets tools.

Another misconception about capitalism that environmentalists have is supposedly diminishing resources. To the country, it’s through capitalism and innovation that resources are saved, sustained and better substitutions found. The price system stops shortages from occurring by increasing the cost of an item as demand increases and supply becomes lower. When prices get too high, entrepreneurs seek out alternatives and substitutions or more efficient methods of consumption. Through the profit motive and innovation, society benefits and the environment does as well.

A perfect example of this is the copper industry in the 1960’s. At the time, telephone use was expanding rapidly and the newly fashionable devices used copper wiring. As a result, the price of copper started to skyrocket. Consequently, a cheaper, cleaner and more efficient substitute called fiber optic cable was developed to address this issue. This innovation not only helped to save the environment and lowering the demand for copper, but it also allowed customers to consume more. It became more affordable to keep expanding telephone and data lines, allowing for a higher standard of living while at the same time helping the environment. Again, capitalism created a win-win situation to save the environment.

On the other hand, government regulations stifle business growth, hold back commerce, and cause the misallocation of funds by creating a lobbyist market to combat and influence these regulations. These funds could have gone toward research and development to create new innovations. If the government only got out of the way and allowed the free market to work at full effect, the environment would be better. Technology, innovation from profit seekers and philanthropy from caring individuals and organizations prove how the free market not only can handle environmental concerns, it does handle them — often better and more efficiently than the government does.


Gannon LeBlanc is a Young Voices Advocate studying business and economics at Eastern Michigan University.