Magazine article Insight on the News

Business Must Take the Lead Caring for the Environment

Magazine article Insight on the News

Business Must Take the Lead Caring for the Environment

Article excerpt

Now that we've marked the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, it is time to propose a new environmentalism for the next quarter-century, a proactive philosophy that harnesses the power of personal action to achieve environmental and economic goals simultaneously.

The environmentalism of the 1970s was combative and adversarial, casting environmentalists against industry, naturalists against scientists, regulators against the regulated, cities against citizens - and more. At its heart were several key assumptions:

* We are running out of resources.

* Industry, technology and the free market are to blame.

* To prevent further harm, those forces must be controlled. Collective decisions must supersede individual choice.

* Prescriptive command-and-control regulations are the surest solutions.

* Zero pollution and zero harm are attainable goals.

After 25 years and $1.5 trillion, the results are mixed. Some types of pollution - such as emissions from large industrial facilities - have been reduced. But millions of "nonpoint" sources - agricultural runoff and small-business wastes - hardly have been touched.

Yet there are areas of success. An explosion in resource productivity has slowed the resource depletion and even increased effective supplies in some cases. New technologies have enabled society to prevent pollution and achieve efficiencies once considered impossible. Dynamic market mechanisms, not government, have achieved the most significant advances, increasing resource productivity by one-third.

It is time to acknowledge what has worked and what hasn't in our efforts to save the Earth and build a new environmentalism founded on our successes.

Business must take a lead role in the evolution of this movement by offering cohesive ideas for a new reform model. This model must show how the power of personal actions within free-market institutions can both protect the environment and provide for the wants and needs of people. This new environmentalism would:

* Be dedicated to effective environmental protection and prudent use of resources.

* Use government narrowly, avoiding areas where the market works better.

* Consider costs and risks more intelligently, using tools such as cost-benefit analyses and risk-assessment.

* Use science and technology as tools to improve environmental performance. …

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