April brings Earth Day and, for many of us, spring cleaning. The ideal is to combine both of those concepts. We want to celebrate the Earth by leaving it cleaner for generations to come.
The question is how to get there. Some point to big government solutions, like the Green New Deal with its regulations and taxes, or the Paris Agreement, which merely gives China a political and pr pass to continue saying something while doing another.
Allow us to point out a more effective solution: promote economic freedom, and also the growth and cleanliness that goes with it.
Growth Leads to Cleanliness
Economic research by many organizations – including The Heritage Foundation, Canada's Fraser Institute, and Yale University – across recent decades proves that freer economies are cleaner economies. In large part, that's because a system rooted in economic freedom generates more wealth for people and societies, which they can invest in protecting the environment.
As the authors of Yale's most recent Environmental Performance Index place it:
We find that economic liberalism is positively associated with environmental performance. While our results do not give countries carte blanche to pursue laissez-faire economic strategies without regard for the environment, they do cast doubt on the implicit tension between economic development and environmental protection.
Prosperity lifts people out of pollution because it gives them time and power to demand a cleaner environment. We see this in the environmental Kuznets curve, which depicts an inverted-U relationship between both pollution and economic development.
Here’s How It Works
Here's how it works: Economic growth, initially, leads to greater pollution as people and institutions prioritize jobs and income over the health of the environment. With time, however, that wealth means more resources are available for environmental protection. Citizens demand their countries reduce pollution. A rise in wealth and prosperity permits people to place a higher priority on environmental protection, also it means they can afford the costs associated with pollution control technologies.
As Yale's Environmental Performance Index shows, there's a strong correlation between gdp per capita and a country's environmental score. It finds that \”wealthy democracies typically popularity of our rankings.\” The building blocks of the trend toward greater per capita wealth, stronger democracies, and fewer poverty is economic freedom.
Consequently, an economic system rooted in limited government and free enterprise should be central to a country's environmental objectives.
The Long Term Threat of Climate Change
This is particularly true when it comes to a long-term threat such as climate change. The world will not be able to meaningfully reduce co2 emissions by giving things up. You will find simply too many people on Earth who will want the lifestyle that most of us in the West already enjoy.
Instead of asking others to throttle down their economies, the U.S. should spread economic freedom to give them an economic ladder to help them boost clean growth. And the U.S. should be exporting our clean energy technologies so everyone else can trim emissions, just as we are.
Consider: The 2021 Environmental Protection Agency inventory on greenhouse gas emissions reported that in the U.S., \”since 2005, national greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 10%, and power sector emissions have fallen by 27% – even while our economy grew by 25%.\” That trend is only going to accelerate with the widespread adoption of electrical vehicles and the growth of renewable wind and solar energy.
Economic freedom is the opportunity, not the threat.
In a paper last year, Aarhus University of Denmark Professor Christian Bjornskov found:
The available data from 155 countries noticed in five-year periods between 1975 and 2021 indicate that economic freedom not just reduces overall CO2 emissions but also shifts the top point of the [environmental Kuznets curve] left. As such, the evidence suggests that the transition to lower emissions technology appears at an earlier stage in economically free societies.
Free, competitive markets that aren't hindered by heavy-handed government distortions will drive investments in cleaner, more effective technologies and more resilient infrastructure. Such markets will result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and improve humanity's ability to adapt to a changing climate.
The correct economic and policy environment cultivates a method that rewards innovation, efficiency, and stewardship. We can improve the future of the Earth by unleashing the strength of economic freedom.