By Chance M. E. Davies
When it comes to making policy, politicians forget a fundamental lesson about basic economics: Resources are scarce.
Understanding that our resources are limited is a vital part of what I believe to be a fundamental personal and business value: conservation. Conservation is the “planned management of natural resources to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.”
As someone who values economic freedom, I pride myself on the fact that free markets provide the best standard of living for the largest number of people, which the data supports. But understanding that an individual lives a relatively short time compared to the longevity of natural resources, how do we maintain these resources for today’s population, as well as tomorrow’s?
Private enterprise drives more efficient use of resources
Private enterprise is often blamed for environmentally reckless and unsustainable business methods (leaving aside the fact that governments often subsidize them). It is evident that some businesses operate only with short-term profits in mind and utilize resources poorly.
But on the flipside, there are also businesses that utilize their resources responsibly to guarantee further utilization, thus ensuring long-term profits.
Regardless of how you believe the economy should run, you likely want a prosperous future for future generations, so how can advocates of free market economics address this concern? Well here are three significant aspects of the free market that can provide some confidence:
For starters, technological innovations offer a lot of relief, and, if trends continue, this will only accelerate further. Even in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, James Watt improved basic steam technology so as to make it more energy efficient. In turn, this sped up the development of the first modern steam engine, propelling Britain’s industrialization forward.
With the acceleration of information and ideas in the modern world, the ability of the market to make technological improvements that are less wasteful is very attainable. For instance, in efforts to conserve the excess use of arable land and water in our agriculture sector, innovations have been made in alternative food production methods.
Innovation will improve food and energy production
Building-integrated agriculture such as aquaponics, or green roof and vertical farming can lower waste in food production. In many cases, it even increases yields, not to mention the multitude of other environmental and economic benefits.
Solar energy has also been a massive development in the last few decades, and it is constantly improving every week, becoming less expensive and more efficient. The good thing about solar energy is that we do not have to worry about running out of beautiful sunshine anytime soon.
Widespread use of solar energy will play a vital role in becoming a mainstream alternative to non-reusable energy resources, conserving fossil fuels and coal. These are just a fraction of the examples of how technological innovations can have a positive role in conservation efforts that have been facilitated by the free market.
Free market principles are key to managing pollution and enabling conservation
In the free market, enforcing property rights plays an important role in conservation. When the government neglects the legal protection of property, how can we expect any property owner to concern themselves with environmental stewardship? Protecting these property rights will encourage their owners to work towards restoration and conservation efforts, because if natural resources are available for future owners, it will hold more value.
If property rights are enforced, tort law can provide property owners legal protection from negative environmental externalities of both private enterprise and government. Strengthening property rights also further opens the door to entrepreneurs looking to profit off conservation through private sustainable development projects and opportunities for eco-tourism.
The African Wildlife Foundation has found the private sector to be an excellent ally in the environmental management of African land, fostering partnerships with local communities. If you are looking for more examples, the Property and Environment Research Center has committed itself to connecting property rights in addressing environmental concerns, and made a great case for free market environmentalism.
Consumer power will drive business towards conservation
We as consumers sometimes forget how much power we have. When a significant amount of us make similar purchases, it sends market indicators to those in the given industry. If conservation becomes heralded as a prominent value of consumers, you can bet businesses will have to adjust to meet this demand.
If they do not, they can kiss their short-term profits goodbye. By being smart and ethical consumers, as well as habitually conserving in our everyday life, we can produce a prosperous society for the long-run, rather than just the short-run.
The conservation of our natural resources does not have to be sacrificed for economic prosperity. Nor do we need to sacrifice our economic prosperity for the conservation of our natural resources. We can have both, and we can do it better than the government.
We can use our increasingly advanced technology, the enforcement of property rights, and the power we have as consumers to do so. There needs to be a shift in how we view our planet, a cultural shift. We are not against the natural world, we are one with it, and we have to come to terms with that fact.
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Updated by Joseph Simnett
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