Free Market Environmentalism: It's No Oxymoron

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The PERC/Liberty Fund undergraduate student colloquium, “Free Market Environmentalism and the Institutions of Liberty,” was held last week. A couple of faculty members, 23 students, and I were immersed in a week-long discussion about markets, the environment, and liberty.  The group of students was diverse -- from across the country and globe. They prepared by reading more than 200 pages of classic and contemporary works on economics and the environment. The participants met in Bozeman, Montana, and listened to presentations ranging from economic theory to on-the-ground applications, public choice, and common law. They partook in nine hours of formal discussion and participated in a day-long field trip to see conservation in action.

I share with you here some of their comments to provide insight on the learning and ideas shared:

  • "It stimulated my thinking about possibilities to protect the environment.”
  • A “Bottom-up approach can have great power.”
  • “I came thinking the EPA/strict regulation would solve all environmental issues. It was literally a revelation to question the incentives of all parties involved.”
  • “With so much policy restriction, is America really as free as we like to think we are?”
  • “I made the connection between how we can have free markets and environmental quality without regulation.”
  • “I had never imagined that property rights could be used as a tool to enhance/facilitate environmentalism."
  • “Rhinos and animals can really be saved by privatization. Fantastic!”
  • “I have lived my entire life doubting the ability for free markets to do anything but breed greed and oppression. I now realize that our planet will surely collapse without them.”
  • “Warning: This colloquium will change the way you think about things. It will frustrate you, excite you, confuse you – but it is a fantastic experience for anyone to be a more informed citizen!”
Wow! What an incredible group with varied backgrounds from economics and political science to biology, history, and natural resource studies. While some students had a good understanding of market principles walking in, it was new to others that were more focused on grassroots efforts, NGOs, and urban planning. These students listened, learned, shared, and explored ideas about protecting the environment for today and the future. I am happy to say these intelligent and articulate young adults will be the leaders of tomorrow.  Let’s challenge ourselves to teach more people to explore and understand the complexities and incentives provided by the governing institutions of laws, regulations, customs, and property rights.

Originally posted at Environmental Trends.

Holly Fretwell is a Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught  introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics. She works with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, giving workshops for  high school teachers to improve their skills in teaching and...
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