I eagerly joined more than 1,100 people from forty-nine states gathered in Louisville, Kentucky from May 26-28, 1993. I was a speaker and participant at this follow-up to the United Nations Earth Summit, “From Rio to the Capitols: State Strategies for Sustainable Development.” We were invited to explore government policies which would promote economic development without diminishing environmental quality.
As a disappointed observer at Rio, I decided to participate directly at the. Rio follow-up in Louisville. Unfortunately, the overwhelming tone there reflected another failure to take environmental issues seriously, to consider how to translate environmental “concerns” into effective policies. It was, in short, Rio deja vu.
Rio, Kentucky was a sad replay of the same themes that dominated Rio, Brazil: “there are too many people, technology is out of control, and we’re greedyr Once again, evil mankind harms innocent nature; the economy threatens the ecology. The solution proposed in many guises throughout the conference was to create an: elaborate ecological :apartheid system, to exclude humanity and human activities from the natural world. The’ theme seemed to be that only major restrictions on individual and economic freedoms — on trade, on economic and technological growth, on the use of energy, on agriculture — offer any hope of ensuring the survival of our planet.
Vice President Al Gore, the most prominent Doomsayer at this conference, defended the Administration’s BTU tax as essential for “sustainable” development and gave assurances that the lax would not be “overly burdensome” on Kentucky’s coal industry. When I visited the State of Kentucky booth at the conference, the state’s representatives actually favored the tax! They seemed to take their cue from Carol Browner, Gore’s hand puppet at EPA, who outlined plans for expanding EPA’s control over the US economy.
A handful of contrarians contested this dominant vision Dennis Avery delivered a, provocative talk, “How Plastics.’ and Pesticides Will Save the Earth.” Still, these were minor themes in a love fest, of. antic: consumer, anti-technology, anti population groupies. That ‘the United States in general and Kentucky in particular certainly in the areas of energy and agriculture has largely succeeded in realizing sustainable development was rarely discussed at Louisville.
The fact that sustainable development is the result of human institutions rather than natural resource availability —that resources that arc privately owned and managed become more abundant over time was ignored.
There were occasional references to failed government programs but these were largely blamed on the Reagan-Bush years and the solution was, of course, more and better Government!
We must not adopt the view that Man and Nature are incompatible. If mankind does not interact with nature, there is little hope that development will ever be sustainable. Eco-Socialism is no more likely to advance ecological. values than traditional Socialism advanced economic welfare: That fact has yet to surface in ‘the policy debate. For development to be truly sustainable, writing adopt an integrationist approach.
Human beings are not a threat to the earth, they are a resource. We must better integrate environmental resources into the human economy.
Only through such integration will people have a personal stake in conservation. Spotted owls are endangered — chickens are plentiful — only because individuals own and protect chickens but not owls.
The Louisville conference, like the Rio conference, dealt with an extremely important issue: the steps needed to ensure the harmonization of economic and environmental goals.
Should we expand the scope of individual action via private property rights or should we expand the power of the state? Remember that Eastern Europe is emerging from a failed experiment that restricted economic freedom in an effort to improve the welfare of society. We must not repeat that failed experiment in the ecological sphere. The free market is the only system of truly sustainable development.