Out of Control Policy Blog

U.N. Suggests Markets to Combat Global Environmental Degradation

If you were even halfway tuned in to the news cycle yesterday, you undoubtedly heard about the latest doom and gloom news on the state of the world's environment. Press coverage surrounding the release of the United Nations' Millenium Ecosystem Assessment Report (full report here) overwhelmingly focused on the more sensational aspects of the report (see here, here, and here, for example).

We were told that humans are damaging the Earth at an unprecedented rate, with two thirds of the ecological systems that sustain life on the planet having been polluted or over-exploited over the last 50 years. We heard about the irreversible loss in biodiversity. And we heard that it's going to get worse unless we do something now.

But once the sensational bad news was delivered, the media dropped the ball on what the report had to offer by way of possible remedies. And as Tim Worstall writes on Tech Central Station, one of the possible remedies discussed in the report was free market environmentalism:

    There are four alternative routes to a solution offered, one of them described thusly:


      More specifically, in Global Orchestration trade barriers are eliminated, distorting subsidies are removed, and a major emphasis is placed on eliminating poverty and hunger.

    That is, that environmental degradation would be best reduced by more trade, more economic growth and less taxation and interference by Governments. It's almost as if these people have been reading Iain Murray of these pages or something, actually agreeing with the point that free market environmentalism actually works, indeed, works better than the alternatives.

    . . . .

    Now that's what I call shocking and almost unbelievable, that 1,300 scientists from 95 countries, working under the auspices of the United Nations, seem to have drunk the free market Kool-Aid. The end result of this years-long investigation is that us free market tree hugger and greenie types are actually correct in our contention that it is not the presence of markets, or the failure of markets, that leads to the devastation, it is the absence of markets. Just as we have had to, in centuries gone by, work out a system of laws that allows markets to flourish, thereby leading to the most efficient usage of resources, so now the task is to do the same for those areas of life where there are no markets. In water, pollution, fishing quotas, tropical forestry, in, in fact, all those sectors where we face the Tragedy of the Commons.

    Many of us writers here at TCS have said so before, there now being a terrible temptation to say "we told you so", but I really don't think that any one of us ever believed that the United Nations would come out and say it. We now actually have a sensible framework for how to solve these problems, let's get to it, eh?

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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