There was an article this weekend in the Wall Street Journal called It’s Too Easy Being Green, by David Owen. Here’s the letter I wrote to the editor in response–maybe they’ll publish it, maybe they won’t, but in any case, I can share it here.
David Owen, in his article, It’s Too Easy Being Green, points out the paradox of trying to be green in a consumption-driven world and cites the ease and push to consume as the real problem. I agree with Mr. Owen that over-consumption is a problem (though my concern is more for the wasteful and rapid use of finite resources than fear of global warming.) In any case, Mr. Owen failed to cite the real reason driving and flying are so cheap, and why fuel itself is so affordable: government policy.
Governments build roads and airports socializing the cost of infrastructure and removing that part of the equation from end-user consumption decisions. By building ever-widening networks of highways, the government encourages developers to build further out of town and allows workers to make farther commutes; by building more airports, the government subsidizes airfare allowing businesses and families to budget for more travel. (Many believe private transportation infrastructure is impossible but all airports used to be private and before the Civil War there were over 400 private road companies in the U.S.)
Another way the government promotes energy use is by employing America’s military to ensure that Middle Eastern oil is in friendly hands. These costly adventures, while greatly increasing the ultimate tax burden on Americans overall, greatly reduces the cost of fuel to the individual consumer.
Finally, government itself is responsible for the low cost of polluting, having decided more than a century ago not to allow strict interpretation of property rights to interfere with pollutants spewed onto private property from factories.
We don’t need government solutions to government-driven problems–take government down to its true function of protecting people and their property and the market will limit consumption and pollution.