Free & Green: 
A New Approach to Environmental Protection

Jonathan H. Adler

Accepted for publication in Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 2001

 

Abstract

Most Americans consider themselves environmentalists, yet most experts are dissatisfied with existing environmental regulations, which are both inefficient and inequitable. Worse, many don’t serve environmental goals. This article outlines an alternative approach to environmental policy based on market institutions and property rights rather than central-planning and bureaucratic control. The aim is both to improve environmental protection and lessen the costs – economic and otherwise – of achieving environmental goals. It seeks to ensure that Americans’ environmental values are advanced without sacrificing the individual liberties the American government was created to protect.

The problem with current regulatory approaches is not merely that they are inefficient or overly bureaucratic. Rather, it is the reliance upon centralized, regulatory institutions to prioritize and pursue environmental goals. An alternative paradigm for environmental protection is grounded in market institutions, property rights in particular. This approach, often referred to as "free market environmentalism," focuses on institutions and the incentives that they create. It advances environmental protection by incorporating environmental resources and values into the marketplace, rather than regulating them outside economic institutions. This paper provides a theoretical overview of a property-based approach to environmental protection and the outlines a series of principles that should guide those interested in a more efficient, effective, and equitable approach to environmental protection with specific examples of policy reforms that can reconcile environmental protection and market institutions.