A Free-Market Energy Blog

Tea Party Environmentalism

By David Schnare -- April 15, 2010

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.


  1. Charles  

    It is time someone stood up to the Greens, as the amount of damage they have done is probably more than most realise. The problem is that most Greens try and take the high moral ground, and so that tends to discourage critics who are not that articulate.

    The Green policy mix is generally speaking quite anti-human, and some of the more aggressive voicers will actually admit they would like a lot less humans around. This is rarely challenged though.

    Greens are also self-loathers who blame humankind for every bad thing in their lives. So, to try and absorb all these negative opinions into society and then try manifest all the reasonable aspirations of the human race such as being ambitious and bettering our lives, makes it a very difficult process to reconcile.

    The Greens have over-reached to some extent with Climate Change though, and most punters are starting to realise that a return to the Stone Age via an ETS or similar is an Orwellian nightmare they probably have no desire to enter. Hopefully, this will see some defusing of the Green power in the near future


  2. Lauren  

    “The Big Greens” in no way want to stamp out people’s rights and minimize the importance of human life. It’s ultimate goal is to help guide people towards a more sustainable way of life. Ignorance is bliss, as Charles, who commented before me, has shown.

    Environmentalism is not a communist plot to take over the world, it is merely asking you to live in a gentler fashion upon the earth. Defusing the green movement would not be in anyone’s best interest, even the most staunch conservative among us.

    We live in a world of decreasing biodiversity, desertification and deforestation, rising temperatures which come along with bizarre and dangerous weather changes, and an impending water shortage. Why in the world would we depower the brave people who want to slow this down? Pure greed perhaps? Go home piggies.


  3. rbradley  


    “Pure green perhaps? Go home piggies”

    It is not that simple. A lot of my opposition to Big Environmentalism questions whether there their policy positions and educational mission is really good for the environment.

    A lot of recycling is bad for the environment on close inspection. The crusage against CO2 is misplaced in my opinion where the same resources could go to real environmental issues (dirty water and dirty air in places around the world). Opportunity cost, in other words.

    Free-market environmentalism is a whole school of thought that cannot be explained here. But bad intentions and ‘greed’ is not descriptive to the movement as I know it.


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