Commentary

Beware of Eco-Treaties

This article appeared in USA Today on May 29, 1992.
Though well-intentioned, international agreements to protect the environment are ineffectual, misguided and very costly for future generations.

The most pervasive environmental problems are local and regional - not global. Water pollution, waste disposal, groundwater contamination, urban smog and deforestation are manifestations of unique state policies and local geographic, demographic and industrial profiles. They can be effectively addressed only locally.

International agreements tend to ignore those less ”mediagenic” problems and pursue sexier issues such as climate change and ozone depletion - purported problems of which there is little hard evidence. Result: Scarce resources are misspent, real problems go unaddressed.

International agreements tend to codify a uniform approach to environmental protection. The world is infatuated with command and control policies that empower armies of bureaucrats no more capable of managing ecological health than they are of managing economic growth. The World Bank, for example, would be charged with administering global environmental programs despite its record of ecological mismanagement.

Natural resources are better protected by individual owners with vested interests in their property than by absentee bureaucratic managers subject to the winds of political fortune. Treaties that centralize environmental management compound ecological damage.

Environmental treaties are biased against economic growth (viewed as a “problem” to be “solved” or “managed”) despite the proven correlation between wealthy economies and healthy environments. Treaties that harm growth not only condemn the poor to continuing poverty but doom long-term progress in environmental protection.

Jerry Taylor is director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute.