This is probably what troubles environmentalists the most: not only does it contradict a common sense approach to the world, it tells them that the best policy is to let individuals act as they please, so long as they do not infringe upon the like right of others. In short, the best policy is no policy. Yet, ironically, this is exactly what ecologist Garrett Hardin — the father of the environmentalists’ “tragedy of the commons” argument — proposed. Hardin observed that one could eliminate the tragedy by getting rid of freedom, as the environmentalists propose, or by getting rid of the commons. By allowing individuals to own and trade “environmental goods,” the market can adapt to the needs and ideas of billions of minds, all striving to improve their lot in life.
Opposition to both freedom and markets has impeded the conservation of endangered species, encouraged economic instability and political conflict, and obstructed the development of critical resources. But there remains a class of environmentalist who may yet realize that free markets are not only an efficient means, but the best means, of serving the long-term interests of mankind.
Andrew Glidden is a writer living in Berkeley, California.