Globe and Mail
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ONE of the more insufferable myths of the environment movement is the belief that there is a large gap between the environment and the economy that only environmentalists can bridge. The second myth is that the gap is so vast that we need a wholesale reworking of the economic system and sweeping new government controls and regulations.
That’s the essence of sustainable development, the great socialist model for global environmental planning and control that now dominates official policy making across Canada. The idea is that the economic and business world is a separate sphere that fails to account for the environment, and therefore must be subjected to a juggernaut of new laws and bureaucratic master plans.
The existence of this mythical environment-economy gap was recently decried by Frederick P. Gale in. a letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail. Mr. Gale, who generously — although inaccurately, I thought — referred to me as “an eco-hostile Neanderthal,” made the following observation:
“Business people and economists inhabit an economic world devoted to encouraging investment, maximizing efficiency and enhancing global competitiveness. Environmentalists, on the other hand, inhabit the world of nature, and devote themselves to protecting endangered wildlife, preventing ozone depletion and combating pollution. This division of the world into two separate spheres is antiquated, dangerous and absurd.”
Hear, hear . . . but. The trouble with Mr. Gale’s assessment is that it is he and devoted environmental activists, rather than us eco-hostile Neanderthals, who are fostering and reinforcing this dangerous and absurd division.
Across Canada and around the world, environmentalists are turning economic decision making into gang warfare. It seems as if every tree cutting or mine project, every trade pact or housing development, now precipitates hostile confrontation between segments of society that want growth and others that want to stop growth, between the economic and the environmental.
The vast majority of environmentalists, as they ply their trade today, are essentially fomenting this dangerous — and artificial — division, driving an even deeper wedge between the economy and the environment, all the while missing the point: There is no inherent gap between the economy and the environment. And to the extent that there is a gap, it is an artificial one created by the very people the environmentalists are now enlisting to legislate a clean environment and sustainable growth: governments, politicians and bureaucrats.
The natural link between the economy and the environment is property rights. Canada’s economic and legal system is founded on property rights, rights that serve to guarantee a pollution-free environment, including clean rivers and lakes and clean air.
But these property rights are slowly being eroded. Governments, the institutions least able to maintain the environment, have been expropriating property rights for decades, passing laws and regulations that give politicians and bureaucrats, rather than property owners, control over the environment. One law after another has stripped individuals, groups, and corporations of their rights to property.
This legislated destruction of rights has created the current environmental messes that exist here and there around the world. For example, Canada’s principal rivers and lakes were once pollution-free, and protected by property rights. But over the years the governments took control over water resources, passed laws that took away those property rights, and then virtually turned rivers and lake into licenced dumping grounds into which to flush toilet and industrial waste.
A more detailed exploration of the great state takeover of water and property rights, and the resulting environmental disaster, will follow in tomorrow’s column.
In the meantime, consider the following brief example, provided by Elizabeth Brubaker, director of policy research at Environment Probe. In 1949, the Supreme Court ordered a pulp and paper mill in Espanola, Ont., to stop polluting downstream waters because the property rights of fishermen, farmers, and tourist operators were threatened. In response, the government of Ontario passed laws allowing pulp companies to release chemicals into the water, denying citizens and other corporations their property rights.