Policy Documents

Heartland's Environment Issue Suite

April 16, 2007

*** This Page is Being Updated 

Welcome to the Common-Sense Environmentalism Issue Suite, a  comprehensive resource for people who support  a common-sense approach to protecting the  environment.

What is Common-Sense Environmentalism?

Common-sense environmentalism recognizes that almost everyone today is an environmentalist. We all want a healthy, green environment for ourselves and our families. What distinguishes common-sense environmentalism from more extreme environmental activism is a commitment to fight real environmental problems rather than imagined ones and a realization that free markets are an ally rather than an enemy of environmental stewardship.

Common-sense environmentalists recognize that environmental scares are frequently unsupported by sound science and are often launched to further an anti-corporation, anti-free market agenda. Activists use junk science to stampede the public into fearing chemicals in the air, food, and water, and the possible consequences of poorly understood phenomena such as climate change.

The best way to achieve a healthy and green environment is to use sound science to distinguish real environmental issues from imaginary ones, and then to tap the efficiency of market forces to address the environmental issues that truly do exist. This enables us to prioritize environmental and public health problems the first step in any serious effort to address a problem and to solve problems without trampling on other things we value, such as individual freedom and economic prosperity.

Air Pollution

Despite what you may hear in the media, air quality in the U.S. is improving dramatically. Air pollution is no longer a significant threat to public health. New laws to reduce the amount of soot and ground-level ozone are unnecessary and will be prohibitively expensive. Clean air debates should not focus on how much further air pollution ought to be reduced--“chasing the last molecule”--but rather on the most efficient means of continuing the progress that is already taking place.

Global Warming

Global warming is a prime example of the alarmism that characterizes much of the environmental movement. Media coverage of the topic is heavily slanted toward alarmism because “bad news sells,” making it difficult for climate realists to get a fair hearing. Al Gore’s recent movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has been severely critiqued by many experts, yet it is being shown in high schools across the country as an educational documentary.

Climate science reveals that the world has warmed about 1 degree C during the past century, with half of that warming occurring before human emissions could have been responsible. Even if human activity is responsible for 100 percent of the warming since 1940, it is only about 0.5 degrees C., an amount so small it is within the error range of the instruments used to measure global temperatures.

There is no consensus about the causes, effects, or future rate of global warming. Most climate scientists doubt the reliability of computer models and the accuracy of land-based temperature records. Reports by the IPCC are unreliable due to political editing and rewriting of the reports’ conclusions. Some of the key evidence cited in past IPCC reports has been shown to be fraudulent.

There is also disagreement over what to do about global warming. Economists believe the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty intended to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions, would cost its participants trillions of dollars while having little or no effect on the global climate. Meanwhile, the federal and state governments debate and pass legislation that will be similarly futile.

Many experts call for adaptation--making small changes to infrastructure and lifestyles to accommodate a slightly warmer world--rather than spend hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reduce emissions. Carbon sequestration could also play a role in responding to climate change.

All of the supposed catastrophic effects of global warming have been rebutted by scientists, including melting ice, hurricanes, other extreme weather, and extinction of wildlife.

An increasing number of experts believe the recent warming is due to natural cycles driven by variability in solar radiation.

Reliable experts on climate change include Patrick Michaels, S. Fred Singer, and Sallie Baliunas. Non-scientists who have rebutted climate alarmism include novelist Michael Crichton and Sen. James Inhofe.

For more information about global warming, go to Global Warming Facts, a Web site created by The Heartland Institute that focuses just on this issue.

Toxic Chemicals

Prior to the global panic over global warming, fear of “toxic chemicals” topped the agenda of many environmental activist groups. But here again we find a reliance on junk science, disregard for the cost of regulation or the risks created unintentionally by regulations, and a willingness to violate individual freedom and private property rights. The nation’s major federal law concerning toxic waste--Superfund--has been an expensive failure.

Over the years, environmental groups have launched campaigns against asbestos, dioxin, lead, mercury, pesticides, PCBs, chlorine, and endocrine disrupters. In every case, later research found the threats had been vastly exaggerated, and that public policies were adopted that cost far more than any benefits they created.

The key insight that environmental advocates, and the media that gives them sympathetic coverage, overlook is the First Law of Toxicology: The dose makes the poison. Many “toxic” chemicals are not dangerous if the level of exposure is below a threshold where physical affects can be observed, while many “harmless” chemicals can be deadly if we are exposed to too much of them. Many public health scares about chemicals are the result of overlooking this simple but important fact.

Free-Market Solutions

It is no accident that wealthy countries have made the most progress toward sustainable development. When people are forced to choose between food, clothing, shelter, medicine, or a green environment, a green environment becomes a luxury item. The best way to ensure effective stewardship of the environment is to encourage the development of wealth that makes environmental stewardship possible.

Free market to environmental protection focus on relying on markets and private property rights to create incentives to protect the environment. Free-market environmentalism is the opposite of the top-down government regulation favored by many environmental advocacy groups.

Risk assessment, while not in itself a free-market idea, is an important tool in overcoming many of the biases and errors of relying on government bureaucracies to protect the environment. Understanding the costs and benefits of regulations, and comparing the risks of action versus inaction, are fundamental building-blocks of common-sense environmentalism. The fact that government agencies do these things very poorly or not at all is a strong argument in favor of free-market environmentalism.

Learn More

To learn more about common-sense environmentalism, check out Environment & Climate News, one of The Heartland Institute’s five monthly newspapers. Click here to view the contents of the latest issue, and here to sign up for a free subscription by email. 

PolicyBot, a free service of The Heartland Institute, contains thousands of studies and commentaries on environmental issues, all in a database searchable by author, topic, date of publication, and publisher. Click here to search the entire “Environment” topic category.

For an excellent introduction to the issues and principles at stake in the debate over how best to protect the environment, consider reading Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism, by Joseph L. Bast, Peter J. Hill, and Richard C. Rue. The entire book is on this Web site, with each chapter saved as an easy-to-download PDF file. Chapters address resource depletion, cancer, “the crisis of the month club,” rules for thinking clearly about environmental problems, and a common-sense reform agenda.

Links to Other Resources

The Heartland Institute is not alone in providing information on common-sense environmentalism. Other good sources include:

World Climate Report--Dr. Patrick Michaels, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, presents a comprehensive, concise, and hard-hitting overview of global warming science. World Climate Report is categorized by date and topic, and provides citations to the current scientific literature.

Science and Environmental Policy Project--Atmospheric physicist Dr. S. Fred Singer, Distinguished Research Professor at George Mason University and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia, presents a weekly update on the latest global warming news.

CO2 Science--Dr. Craig Idso, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, and the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Sciences, presents a weekly review of the scientific literature regarding global warming issues. CO2 Science also provides historical temperature data from weather stations throughout the U.S.

Climate Audit--Geologist Steve McIntyre, who played a key role in exposing flaws in Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” graph purporting to show unprecedented recent warming, provides near-daily updates on the latest scientific data and literature regarding global warming.

Climate Science--Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., a meteorologist with the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, provides near daily updates on the scientific literature related to global warming. Dr. Pielke insists that he is not a global warming “skeptic,” but does feel that global warming fears lack nuance and are substantially overstated.

Prometheus--Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado, provides daily news and commentary on science policy regarding a wide variety of issues.

Committee for a Constructive Tommorrow (CFACT)--CFACT’s E-FACT Report will keep you up to date on all the environmental issues that matter to you.