Free Market Capitalism: Good for the Environment?

Anyone who is really paying attention to the global warming debate will notice that reducing carbon emissions and wealth distribution go hand-in-hand.

Or do they?

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann wrote a very interesting article which makes very much the opposite point.

The goals of the climate change crowd are not reduction in global warming but the enactment of a world-wide system of regulation which puts business under government control and transfers wealth from rich nations to poor ones under the guise of fighting climate change. Should the emissions come down on their own, as they are doing, the excuse for draconian legislation goes, well, up in smoke.

The facts are startling. In 1990, the year chosen as the global benchmark for carbon emissions, the United States emitted 5,007 millions of metric tons of carbon (mmts). Kyoto specified that emissions must be reduced to a level 6% lower than in 1990. For the U.S., that means 4,700 million metric tons.

American carbon emissions rose year after year until they peaked in 2007 at 5,967 mmts. But, in 2008, they dropped to 5,801 and, in 2009, the best estimate is for a reduction to 5,476. So, in two years, U.S. carbon emissions will have gone down by more than 500 mmts – a cut of over 8%.

President Obama has pledged to bring the U.S. carbon emissions down by 17%. He’s halfway there.

All this without government regulation, taxation, or phony “carbon credits”.

In all honesty, I really don’t know what to make of the science behind the man made global warming debate* but I have been a skeptic since the issue has been part of the public debate (and long before the whole ClimateGate scandal broke). I don’t doubt the phenomenon of global warming at all; the earth has warmed and cooled many times over billions of years without the intervention of man. Why wouldn’t the earth warm up again regardless of man’s intervention?

My skepticism aside, the fact that carbon emissions are being reduced on the part of private actors without government force isn’t all that surprising. Over the last several years, global warming “awareness” has been broadcast on an almost daily basis and the market has responded.

As a general rule, I believe that reducing waste and increasing efficiency is not only good for the environment but also cost effective. Being environmentally conscious should not mean sacrificing quality or increasing costs.

A good Capitalist wants to have the car with the best mpg rating without sacrificing safety. It’s not because the Capitalist is necessarily concerned about man made global warming nor that s/he wants to “stick it to the BIG oil companies” but simply s/he wants more bang for his/her buck (greedy Capitalist!).

On a personal level, I use the reusable shopping bags not because I am overly concerned about too many plastic bags filling up the public landfill but simply because the reusable bags are stronger. I am quite willing to pay the $2 it costs to buy the stronger, reusable bag because it means fewer trips between my vehicle and my home without fear of the bag tearing in the process.

Many of these “green” innovations have benefits beyond combating pollution.

But even if everything Morris and McGann writes is true and even if the Kyoto targets are met (or even exceeded), this will not be enough for the global warming extremists**. If carbon emissions are reduced by 17%, they will move the goal posts and demand 20 and 25% reductions. When these goals are not met, the extremists will demand more government regulation despite what the free market has achieved on its own.

*I’m not a climatologist and neither are most people who will read this post.
**As they also point out.