Creative Conservation: A Reformation in Environmental Policy

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Creative Conservation: A Reformation in Environmental Policy

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on November 14, 2017 FREE Insights Topics:

A FREE Policy Salon*

FREE supports three values: sustainable ecology, responsible liberty, and modest prosperity.  Policy salons are one tool we use to explore and promote these values.  The salons involve readings, brief presentations by knowledgeable individuals, and occasional recordings.  The key element is discussion before, during and after a lengthy meal.  

Our most recent policy salon followed a five day visit to FREE’s office by John Couretas (Executive Editor of Religion & Liberty) and Sarah Stanley (Managing Editor) from the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  John and Sarah explored Bozeman and potions of Greater Yellowstone, met with individuals in our conservation community, visited the Park, and enjoyed winter recreation.  They brought and shared these new experiences with our Policy Salon.  

Each salon has a theme.  This one, coincident with the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, explored today’s reformation in the management of America’s “romance lands”.  These are parks, wildlife, wildlands, natural waters, range and timber lands.  

This reformation will be successful when conservation leaders understand that neither the Progressive Era’s “scientific management” (bureaucratic command-and-control) model, nor the Green Movement (dated from the first Earth Day) are equal to or appropriate for the mission of managing our romance lands.  Success requires cooperation with and coordination by private sector organizations working with local, state, and federal resource agencies, such as Park Service and it's counterparts.

Governmental agencies are ever more financially constrained and bureaucratically bound by lawsuits.  Their smart leaders recognize this. They search for new opportunities to achieve conservation missions.  Their next wave of conservation will succeed through creativity and entrepreneurship.  

Organizations that exemplify these talents are two Bozeman based organizations: Yellowstone Forever ( & American Prairie Reserve (  And two of their leaders, Heather White and Pete Geddes participated in our recent salon.  They helped us understand why creative conservation is the next wave in environmental policy reform.

The Green Movement was officially launched on first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  The staff of the lead organization, Environmental Action, estimated that 20 million people participated.  It's aim: "To reverse our rush toward extinction".  Environmental Action published the apocalyptic book, Earth Day-The Beginning.   Like Genesis, the Earth Day book announces a new beginning.  It features some 50 essays, many with an Old Testament orientation:  Modern Americans are sinners in the hand of an angry Earth Goddess, Gaia.  

The date chosen for Earth Day was V. I. Lenin's 100th birthday.  Earth Day boasted anexplicit anti-capitalist, pro-socialist, philosophical orientation. Some participants celebrated China's Chairman Mao's environmentalism and carried his Little Red Book. Like leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Luther's day, many of those in the Green Movement claim a monopoly on ecological truth and virtue.  Consider the accusation "climate denier". This term is labeled on anyone skeptical of predictions of disaster if we don't mend our CO2 emitting ways. The considerable benefits of warming are ignored. Worldwide 20 times more people die from cold than from heat.* Much of the Greens' enthusiasm for exaggerating the costs of warming is easily explained. It gives them a license to impose their visions of preferred living upon ecological heathens or apostates.  Al Gore and his ilk are given a pass when taking private jets to world climate conferences.  Such behavior doesn't wear well.

Fortunately, a reformation of the Green Movement is well underway.  Driving forces are clear, the Greens founding analysis and prescriptions were deeply flawed.  The Earth Day dictum, "Prosperity plus technology causes environmental destruction", has proven false.  Misused technology can indeed cause massive environmental damage.  Examples abound in all industrialized communist nations, even East Germany the most prosperous by far.*

Culture and market signals often converge employing technology for environmental improvement.  Examples in daily life abound, consider automobiles. The 1970 Lincoln four door weighed 4909 pounds and averaged 10.4 MPG.  Today's equivalent, the Lincoln MKX, weighs half a ton less, averages 25 MPG, and offers many safety features.* Further, it is faster and lithe, more comfortable, and likely to last at least twice as long. The competitive process guarantees that comparable Cadillac and Chrysler products will demonstrate similar improvements.  

A similar process is evident in the replacement of copper household piping with synthetics like polyethylene.  This pipe is flexible, its cost is half that of copper, and it withstands the freezing that breaks copper.  Further, the environmental damage of additional copper mines is eliminated. An analogous process operates with information and is ever more dramatic than in transportation or plumbing.  Wikipedia has eliminated the need for massive and incomplete encyclopedia while email displaced much postal traffic.  And why bother driving to the bank?

The major point is causing a reformation in environmental policy: the Green dictum regarding the evils of technology is fundamentally wrong.  When market signals do not perversely ignore environmental costs or are distorted by subsidies, wealth plus technology fosters sustainable ecological systems. Spontaneous order moves toward a virtuous circle of rising safety and quality, lower costs, and greater durability.


It is obvious that when wealthy people are unconstrained by conscience and social norms, they can have huge negative environmental impacts.  Elites posturing Green credentials while flying private jets to international meetings on climate change provide gross examples.  However, when citizens are educated, wealthy, and mobile they prefer a quality environment.  

Ideally, ethical and economic incentives foster sustainable ecology, responsible liberty, and modest prosperity.  Public policy should lead these values to be complementary not competitive.  This required reformations of Green philosophy and political institutions. Data, experience, and logic exposed errors and reform is gradually occurring.  A new paradigm is developing, a reformation in environmental philosophy and policy.  I'll sketch the process after defining my chosen terrain.

I place environmental economic and policy issues into two baskets.  The first involves noxious materials flowing from pipes, stacks and mines.  These injure or kill humans and other living things.  Sensible people minimize exposure or avoid them. The other basket includes parks, wildlands, wildlife, water and range.  Examples of these are featured on calendars and in coffee table books.  It's the romance basket.  


Although the logic works in both sectors, I focus on romance.  Were I interested in studying sludge, I'd live near Boston rather than a ranch near Bozeman and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  

A core belief of the Green movement held that technology plus prosperity generated environmental doom.  The early Greens argued, and some still do to preclude or forestall this sorry outcome, that governments should dominate natural resource and environmental management.  They believe private activities in these arenas should require governmental permission followed by careful monitoring.  Yes, governments were terrible managers of natural resources, but they would be reformed in accord with an emerging Green culture.

Success in bringing harmony among the three values of liberty, ecology and prosperity occurs when numerous people in the culture recognize and appreciate environmental quality.  Then, if clear property rights operate under the rule of law and the market process generates signals about what people want, and at what cost, then entrepreneurs discover ways to move resources to higher values.  

These entrepreneurs include people operating as individuals, in nonprofits, for-profit firms, and especially governmental agencies. The record here is unequivocal- had not people like Bob Barbee taken the risk to manage Grizzly bears (for example, implementing bear proof garbage cans throughout the ecosystem) and standing his ground on the role of fires in the ecosystem. We very likely would not have nearly the quality we enjoy today. Without that quality there would not be nearly as many nonprofits in the region and they would not be successful in raising romance money. We increasingly find cooperation among anonprofits and government agencies to achieve conservation and habitat goals.  Excellent examples abound, notably the Bozeman based American Prairie Reserve and Yellowstone Forever.  The former is working with multiple owners and agencies to create a 3.2 million acre wildlife preserve in northeast Montana. The latter was formed to support and protect the world's first national park created in 1872, Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres.  


People inside and those independent of agencies recognize that government bureaus lack the financial, organizational, and legal capacities to manage large and complex ecosystems with multiple ownerships held by individuals, corporations, local and state governments, and several federal agencies. Why?  One important reason is that governmental bureaucracies usually select against the rise of risk-taking visionaries.

The New Resource Economics and Free Market Environmentalism explore and explain constructive alternatives to the sylvan socialism accepted as default by the original Earth Day Greens. Yet, the most promising improvements lie in creative conservation: This is the next reformation of environmental policy.  

*From Wikipedia:  A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly (for enjoyment) and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements….

*The study — published in the British journal The Lancet — analyzed data on more than 74 million deaths in 13 countries between 1985 and 2012. Of those, 5.4 million deaths were related to cold, while 311,000 were related to heat.

*When the Berlin Wall came down and exposed the consequences of communism, one discovery was the scale of environmental destruction.  East Germany at reunification with West Germany had a third of it’s water too polluted to process for drinking. While nearly half of the country’s lakes were dying and unable to sustain fish, only one-third of industrial sewage and half of domestic sewage received treatment.

*Standard equipment includes all the usual stability control and airbags, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera system, and parking sensors. The MKZ Reserve package adds on blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts—they're a feature that offers enough useful information to earn our recommendation. Lastly, the MKZ offers rear-seat, outboard inflatable seat belts.

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