02 July 2007

the economics of environmentalism

Munger has done it again, creating a reasoned and accessible explanation of some of the misguided efforts of knee-jerk environmentalists.
A generation of American has been indoctrinated into a "save resources, recycle at all costs" mindset. "Recycle!" is used as a moral bludgeon. This is different from "Don't Litter!" Littering is a collective action problem, a genuine social dilemma: cheaper for me to throw that cup out the window. But I myself would prefer a world where no one throws cups out of windows over a world where everyone does. "Don't litter" is an attempt to solve a real problem.

"Recycle, regardless of cost!" doesn't solve a problem; it creates one. Laws requiring recycling harm me, the environment, and everyone else. We have to take prices into account, because prices are telling us that we can't save resources by wasting resources.

prices involved in recycling that are free to fluctuate based on resource consumption would be mighty good at letting us know what is actually a good thing to recycle. if i end up sending more carbon into the air than i'm saving by recycling, just what good is recycling that product? there's no such thing as a free lunch. i'm all for doing my part to recycle, but i'd much prefer to actually save my planet than satisfy some garbage nazis who prefer action to results.

No comments:

Post a Comment