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Earth Day Blues

The rise and fall of the environmental movement.

1:35 PM, Apr 22, 2010 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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But conservatives quickly became alienated from the issue by the revolutionary apocalypticism of the dominant voices of environmentalism, the costly regulatory bureaucracy that emerged in Washington, and the disregard for private property rights in environmental law. Sincere environmentalists ought to be able to recognize the disaster that this represents for their cause: We can achieve the No Child Left Behind Act only when there is compromise between left and right; the same is true if there is ever going to be a No Species Left Behind Act (the Endangered Species Act doesn’t come close). Instead, environmentalism today practices is own version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, defending against any reform of a regulatory regime that specializes in imposing billion dollar solutions to million dollar problems, and rejecting any serious use of cost-benefit analysis, even though wasting money means we are wasting resources. Private sector money is the only resource environmentalists think we’ll never run out of.

Forty years on, we find the Environmental Protection Agency this week trying to recapture some of the old Earth Day magic by promoting--“an environmental justice video contest”! The EPA wants amateur and professional filmmakers to create videos that “raise awareness of the movement.” If the public isn’t “aware” of environmental issues by now, another set of public service announcements, Al Gore documentaries, or end-of-the-world-coming-soon books aren’t going to make them aware. If someone made an endangered list for vibrant social movements, environmentalists would be close to the top. One day perhaps a new generation of environmental leaders will figure this out. Until then the greens are going to be feeling more and more blue.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of the forthcoming Almanac of Environmental Trends.

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