18 April 2005

'Blue' environmentalism?

Chuck Colson extols the virtues of "blue" environmentalism, a phrase coined by theologian Michael Novak to counterbalance what he sees as the distortions of "green" and "red" (i.e., socialist) approaches. Greens deprecate humanity, attributing no more value to human beings than to a field of flowers, while reds deny human freedom, especially in the economic realm. In fact, argues Colson, the considerable environmental progress of the past decades has come about primarily through human economic enterprise:

When the modern environmental movement really got going, achievements were even more impressive. Clean air legislation sharply brought down six types of air pollution. And today when hybrid cars—running on gasoline and electricity—are becoming more and more common on American highways, the free market is again showing its ability to clean up the environment.

To which I say, yes but. . . Yes, the market definitely has a role to play. Yet in so far as the physical environment constitutes a global commons, the state -- indeed many states acting in co-ordinated fashion -- must necessarily play a key role in its protection. Colson himself admits the positive role of legislation.

Moreover, rather than focussing simply on private property, there needs to be an emphasis on the legitimacy of the multiple forms of property ownership -- or, perhaps more properly, stewardship -- characterizing a pluriform society. The subjects of such ownership are as diverse as the various responsible agents themselves, ranging from individuals to families, business enterprises, museums, churches and political communities.

So, rather than playing up either state or market, as if they were somehow antithetical alternatives, we need to recognize the differentiated responsibility of multiple authoritative agents in protecting the physical environment. Rather than red, green or blue, I might be tempted, had it not already been appropriated by another movement, to use a rainbow metaphor.

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