Sunday, July 31, 2005

"The State of Nature"

This is a pretty interesting debate between Carl Pope and Bjorn Lomborg (courtesy of MeFi) about the state of the environment.

As a libertarian and staunch defender of private property, admittedly I'm inclined to view the Chicken Little proclamations of environmentalists with bemused skepticism -- but don't typecast me just yet. I also maintain a healthy respect for science so I'm willing to give both sides a fair hearing.

But what's maddening about environmentalists is that the application of science for them is a one-way street. Their vague, "trust us, we're experts" appeals to authority include geologists and climatologists, but seldom economists -- the very ones best equipped to explain the consequences of human choices and behavior, and also to prescribe voluntary measures that respect private property. And the debate between Pope and Lomborg boils down to prioritization and allocation of scarce resources, clearly the purview of the economist (for his part, Pope seems to have no clue of the concept of opportunity cost). The climatologists and geologists tell us the whats and whys about the environment, but that doesn't mean they should tell us how to fix the problems.

This situation isn't analogous to the physician or auto mechanic who analyzes problems and prescribes fixes. It's more like traditional (not design-build) construction -- the architect designs the structure and then delegates construction to the general contractor, who in turn delegates to all the subtrades like
plumbing, electrical, etc., for specialty items. All of these disciplines working together form a synergy. When we're talking about the global ecosystem, and the impact that drastic shifts in public policy would have on the entire world, shouldn't the same model prevail? Shouldn't we hear from experts and enlightened minds from many, many disciplines? If not, why?

Environmentalists seem to want not only their interpretation of data and reality to govern, but only their proposed "solutions" implemented -- and considering those solutions always default to "government empowered to regulate the shit out of everything" -- well, you can see why I consider the input of a few free-market economists necessary. Call me crazy. The sad part is, if environmentalists truly respected science, they would want economists (and many other types of scientists) to have a voice in the chorus.

Truly I'm not trying to be a turd-stirrer here -- but I've never heard a reasonable explanation, from any environmentalist, as to why Stanford's Paul Ehrlich was so hilariously wrong in his famous bet with the late, great Julian Simon...


BULLSEYE said...

Anyone who likes Steely Dan is on my side.

J Ballot said...

Hey, thanks bullseye. Fairly or not, I tend to use Steely Dan as a touchstone for cultural sophistication. Call me a culture snob.

Nice site, BTW! [just FYI, it's not worksafe, if others would like to check it out]