Thursday, September 03, 2009

What's So Dark About Green Politics?

Peter Foster decries Preston Manning's "turn" to environmentalism

Writing in an op/ed in the Financial Post, Peter Foster seems rather disenchanted with Preston Manning.

Apparently, he just can't figure out Manning's involvement with Sustainable Prosperity, an organization that Foster describes as "a lobby group for radical environmental policies".

Yet when one takes a good look at the page presenting the organization's research, one sees a rather different picture than the one Foster seems to be presenting.

In fact, Manning's involvement with Sustainable Prosperity is nothing new for him. He has long promoted free market environmentalism -- the idea that ownership of property promotes proper care for the environment.

The theory of free market environmentalism simply states that property ownership is an investment. As a result, the owner of that property has an incentive to maintain the value of their investment by ensuring that the property remains in good condition. For home owners, this entails maintenance of the house. For land owners, this entails minimizing the amount of pollution that takes place on their property, and properly cleaning up any pollution that does occur.

As with any market structure, this does entail a certain amount of government intervention.

To the typical hard-core conservative government intervention is generally considered anathema. But these people overlook the fact that, even though economics insists that all people are rational actors, it doesn't necessarily mean that they always act in their best interests, or that of their community.

Where the market fails to self-regulate (as it often does) through business or property owners that fail to percieve their incentive to maintain the value of their investments via proper environmental care, it is the government's responsibility to act.

Interestingly, SP offers several answers to some of Foster's questions. Foster notes the difficulty of pricing carbon under a cap and trade system. SP advocates a hybrid system for carbon pricing, and offers the principles under which carbon could be priced.

Manning's involvement with SP doesn't even represent any kind of sudden change for him. Manning has long been a proponent of theological environmentalism, the idea that religious believers have an obligation to environmentalism via their responsibility to care for their god's creation.

Much of Foster's objections to Sustainable Prosperity seem like a knee-jerk reaction when one considers that Andrew Heintzman is very much a man who has put his money where his mouth is and invested heavily in environmental enterprise.

There's nothing dark about green politics, especially not the manner in which Manning is advancing it.

If anything, Peter Foster should welcome Sustainable Development to the environmental debate, as it provides an alternative in the debate that is much more palatable than the numerous proposals based solely on economically-cripping forms of government intervention (remember Stephane Dion's Green Shift?).

If Preston Manning and Andrew Heintzman are successful in promoting their ideas, not only will it go a long way toward improving the current state of the environment, but it will have given conservatives a much stronger voice in how that is done.

Peter Foster should be happy with that.

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