Middle America has awakened, and its slogan appears to be “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” At least, that seems to be the meaning of the Tea Party movement and the recent elections in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia.
But other than being “mad as hell,” what are the Tea Party’s positions on issues such as the environment?
There is no simple answer to this question because there is no “Tea Party.” There are, rather, a multitude of Tea Parties. The Tea Party is a movement and not an organized, monolithic political party. Tea Parties may support some candidates, and conservative candidates will claim they have Tea Party endorsement, but they will most likely be running as Republicans or Independents rather than as registered members of the Tea Party.
So, what is the Tea Party about and what does that really mean with regard to environmentalism? It’s probably not quite what you think.
The Tea Parties generally adopt a very simple platform: Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. This simple formulation embraces “Free Market Environmentalism” as described in Anderson and Leal’s 1991 (revised 2001) book of the same name, and in the reading list at The CommonsBlog.org. As Jonathan Adler explains it:
Free market environmentalism (FME) rejects the “market failure” model. “Rather than viewing the world in terms of market failure, we should view the problem of externalities as a failure to permit markets and create markets where they do not yet—or no longer—exist,” argues Smith. Resources that are privately owned or managed and, therefore, are in the marketplace are typically well-maintained. Resources that are unowned or politically controlled, and therefore outside the market, are more apt to be inadequately managed. “At the heart of free market environmentalism is a system of well-specified property rights to natural resources,” explain Terry Anderson and Donald Leal, authors of Free Market Environmentalism. Adds Smith, “Rather than the silly slogan of some environmentalists, that ‘trees should have standing,’ our argument is that behind every tree should stand an owner who can act as its protector.”
In short, free-market environmentalism argues that private property rights and the marketplace, if not obstructed by big government, can better protect the environment than can big government.
Again, however, because there is no one “Tea Party,” there is no official, national party platform to which one can refer to find this spelled out. Indeed, a Google search on “tea party environmental” produced over 21 million hits, but in the first 200, only one Tea Party emerged as having an environmental plank: the North Idaho Tea Party. Briefly, the Party’s Environmental Committee “believes that nature should not be elevated above human and property rights, and supports a balanced approach between preserving the natural world and protecting the living needs of the people.”
If you listen carefully, this is more of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” message. It’s about getting environmental issues sent back to the local governments which must balance the costs of environmental programs against those of police, fire, education, and social services. And, it’s about reestablishing rights of people and companies – rights that have been crushed by state and federal environmental mandates that do not, and in many cases cannot, balance the needs and wants of the people against a strict program of zero-risk environmental activism.
The North Idaho environmental plank strikes me as about half of the Tea Party equation. It seeks sensible environmentalism based on critical thinking skills and a demand for honest science, including full transparency in the scientific discussion (think the failures exposed by Climategate). That’s fine as far as it goes, but there is another step the Tea Party wants to take, even if they haven’t made much noise about it yet.
They want officials who have the courage to look Big Green in the eye and say, “No you can’t.” They want officials who will not only rebalance the needs of individuals and society against the demands of Big Green, but will make the budget cuts that will drive this rebalancing. They want officials who demonstrate fiscal responsibility on environmental management.
In short, the Tea Parties want as much environmental quality as we can afford, but no more than we can afford.