Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Environment

he elevation is nearly 12,000 ft. above sea level. Surrounding me on three sides are towering mountains forming a bowl several miles in diameter. The bowl is buried beneath a double-digit snow pack. In all directions, the cliffs and mountains that reach to the sky create an eerie and beautiful landscape that is my own private world. Few venture this high; the snow is deep, the powder is high, the temperature is several degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. The wind blows at my face, its cold bite nips at my protective garb. I pull my goggles tighter around my eyes. They tighten against my helmet. My face mask keeps my face warm, yet I still feel the cold chill of the wind. Feeling ready, I take one last look at my thin air, treeless, Rocky Mountain alpine domain where I can count on my gloved hand how many other humans are in a 10 mile radius – five. I rise to my feet, adjusting momentarily to the awkward feeling of being nearly bolted to a board. Leaning forward, I begin to slide. As I quickly adjust from looking at the mountains and begin to look at the two-foot deep powder in front of me, I realize the cold, the wind, the merciless mountains, and the human devoid land I am in is what I live for during the winter months. It is at this point my snowboard begins to take true speed as I descend down the alpine mountains of Loveland Ski Area.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Snowboarding, one of the more dangerous sports a teen such as myself can choose from, is the most invigorating and adrenalin-rushing sport I have ever participated in during my brief life of 18 years. This sport, along with the older and more refined sport of skiing, is world famous and a cash machine for Colorado and other western states (although Colorado is the best for skiing/snowboarding).

It is not just the rush that I enjoy with snowboarding. The scenic opportunities are remarkable with the sport. Though I am a native Coloradoan, I would never venture into an alpine bowl during the winter months. It is simply not safe for your average hiker. The snow is too deep, the wind is too cold, and the threat of frostbite is always present. However with snowboarding, I can see sights that even my Colorado eyes would not normally see (let alone a tourist’s eyes!). Which brings up a good question – is it right to snowboard?

There is a small movement afoot to end skiing and snowboarding for the very reason I just described. There are those who desire to close the ski slopes so as to keep humans from places that they would not normally go. This, of course, is the environmental movement. The answer that logically arises from the clashing of these two movements is where do we, as humans, draw the line? Where do we draw the line between economic prosperity and environmental protection?

Being a free market capitalist, I believe in pursuing activities that will further the benefit of those who are participating in that activity. At the same time, however, I am an avid outdoorsman who loves nature. I have found a balance between these two often-differing sides.

Nature is a beauty to behold. However, even in the communist U.S.S.R. you could enjoy nature as you worked hard in life to get nowhere due to the economic policy the U.S.S.R. had in place. Prosperous production facilities produce so many of the goods we have come to take for granted such as iPods, iMacs, iBooks, and those cool little Starbucks cups. However, many times these facilities will pollute the surrounding area and will cause nature to die on several levels.

The line must be drawn at a very distinct point. What liberals and environmentalists many times desire is a pristine world… where humans are not allowed to venture into nature and enjoy that pristine world. Ultimately, this philosophy leads to the idea that man is the problem on the Earth. It is therefore to nature’s benefit that we lessen man’s impact by lowering man’s numbers. This, of course, is a very dangerous policy. Under the right government, such a policy is a recipe for genocide.

I have come to the decision that the best balance between capitalism and environmentalism is freedom. It is paramount that the freedom to pursue activities that will benefit you stay intact. If people cannot freely go out and participate in something that will benefit them, then we are not much better than communists. However, such benefits must be taken into account in the light of the environment they very well might affect.

Let’s take an example I saw once in a textbook I had for school. Let us say that we have several factories that produce the all-important iPods. These factories, however, produce air pollution. This is very unfortunate. However, iPods are a titanic product that consumers desire. Therefore, the two sides in this situation are the producers and the environmentalists. What is the best way to solve such a problem? Believe it or not, I have come to the decision that the best way to solve a pollution problem such as the one described above is with taxation. Before you fall over in you seat, however, let me explain how this would work.

Legislation would be passed that increases a tax on pollution. The tax bill would simply say that producers have the option of either lowering their pollution or paying the tax and maintaining their pollution level. This is the capitalistic thing to do. The beauty of such a tax is that it is business-friendly. If a producer decides that is more costly to continue polluting than pay the tax, the producer will lower the pollution levels of the factory. When that occurs, the producer will no longer have to pay the tax. In this case, the producer is not penalized by taxes, and the environmentalists are satisfied.

What happens though when another factory finds it is more costly to lesson pollution than to pay the tax? Then the producer will simply pay the tax. In this case, the business is allowed to continue, but at the same time the producer is paying the public for the right to pollute.

There is one major distinction I must make before I leave this topic. Many of you might consider my idea of taxing pollution a liberal/socialist idea. A casual glance at it may produce such a feeling. However, there is a titanic difference between my tax idea and a standard liberal tax. Let us take the above example again. My tax on pollution can be avoided; if the business finds it more costly to continue polluting, then the business will find a way to stop polluting and will therefore not pay the tax. The pollution tax, therefore, is avoidable if the business finds the tax burdensome. A liberal, on the other hand, would prefer to place a tax not on pollution but on iPods (remember, this is a set of factories that produces iPods). How can the business avoid paying the iPod tax if it wants to produce iPods? It cannot avoid paying this tax. That is a liberal tax. Other examples of liberal taxes are income, Social Security, Medicare, FUTA, and SUTA taxes. The difference between a tax by a capitalist and a tax by a liberal is that the capitalist’s tax can be avoided if it makes economic sense to do so; the liberal tax cannot be avoided.

This very simple argument solves the questions it addresses. In real life, the problems of pollution and such are much larger than this example shows. However, the idea of taxing pollution is a start.

In summary, the best way to draw the line between business and the environment is to let businesses (and by extension people) decide where that point is. I believe it is completely within government’s rights to produced incentives for a clean environment. However, those whom the incentives are directed against must have an opportunity to avoid those incentives. That is the line, ladies and gentlemen. The taxed producers must be given the option to avoid the tax by changing their habits IF it is profitable to avoid the tax.

Another fine lesson from Conservative Textbook.

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