Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a good time for a reminder that a respect for private property, not massive government intervention, is the best prescription for a healthy environment:
Looking back, we can see that Nelson and the nascent environmental movement largely misdiagnosed the problem. In advocating massive government intervention as a way to handle environmental problems, Nelson decried private enterprise, declaring, "We assumed that, if private enterprise could be such a spectacular success in production of goods and services, it could do our social planning for us, too, set our national priorities, shape our social system, and even establish our individual aspirations." Nelson and other activists saw heedless private enterprise as the cause of environmental problems, not as a solution to them.
America's prosperity not only created pollution, but the wealth and institutions of technological innovation that enabled the country to address the problems caused by pollution.
[. . .]
The environmental degradation that rightly concerned Nelson and other early environmentalists occurred in open access commons—areas where no one owned the resource and so had no incentive to protect and conserve it. Instead, the incentive of people operating in an open access commons is to grab as much as possible as quickly as possible because otherwise someone else will take it before they can. Thus airsheds, rivers, government forests, oceans, and even highways were polluted and degraded. Relying on this insight, I hope that future environmentalists will find that enclosing the commons, rather than using the blunt instrument of political regulation, will more effectively protect and restore the natural world.
Alas, I note that none of the Indiana cities planning Earth Day celebrations plan to get anywhere near the truth. But in Terre Haute, you can listen to a poetry slam and turn in your empty printer ink cartridges, so the day won't be a total loss.