Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kneecapping Environmentalism

This post isn’t for the spiritual environmentalists, I’m calling the pragmatists. I don’t need any granola or tree-talking solutions to this problem, because here is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to proving environmentalism is good for economics and everyday people. This is also a two-fer, since you’d be getting it done in the pumping economic heart of the South. Your solution would be a model for almost every city in the sun-belt from Washington, D.C, to Los Angeles, so this is important.

Quick quiz – is conserving water good or bad for the environment? Is conserving water good or bad for a family’s household economy? Go ahead and answer those questions in your head. The intuitive answers are Yes & Yes, respectively. Conserving water has many environmental benefits as far as wastewater treatment; runoff & chemicals; stream, lake & estuary health; aquatic life health; recreation, etc, etc. The free-market economic answer tells us that, the more people conserve water, the greater the water supply is therefore the cost should go down.

If all that were true, then environmentalism would be an easy sell, and people would be conscious of their water use because to do so would benefit them economically. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

People in Metro Atlanta have cut their water consumption by double digits in many counties, but are now paying more for their water. Free market implications can only be considered tangentially, as water delivery and system maintenance are infrastructure issues. Water service is a subsidized, non-business, government service in many places, especially in the South.

So there’s a problem, and it is up to the government and the environmentalists to come up with a pragmatic, economical solution to it. Fail to address it, and it verifies narratives that the government is only wasteful bureaucracy that does not solve problems and that environmentalism is too costly to enact while prioritizing the needs of working Americans too lowly. Winning elections is fun, isn't it? If you can't solve problems like this, don't get too used to that feeling.

An added level of political difficulty: you do not get to blame suburban sprawl, non-concentrated county infrastructures, and terrible regional planning for this problem. While these may be the factors that contribute the most to the problem, laying blame only alienates any solution you must sell politically.

Bonus: what would be your solution, Free Marketers?


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