The free market should play more of a role in protecting the environment, conservative thinkers said at a conference Monday.
Noted economists, lawyers, politicians and environmentalists spoke to a crowded audience in Reynolds Industries Theater about conservative approaches to environmental policy, including discussion of government regulation and budgeting for environmental costs. David Roche—graduate student in the Nicholas School of the Environment and third-year law student—mediated the event.
Environmental debate too often devolves into bumper sticker arguments and two sides screaming at each other, said Roche, a self-proclaimed liberal.
“If you can’t start with dialogue, a general place of agreement, then you’re never going to reach a solution,” he said. “We start from very different points—our ideologies are very different—but the end point, our vision of the future, is similar. They want a healthy environment [and] a positive sustainable future just like we do.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Bob Inglis, president of the Energy and Enterprise Institute and former Republican congressman from South Carolina. He delivered a speech titled “Putting Free Enterprise to Work.”
Many speakers focused on the role of business in environmentalism. The segment “Free-Market Environmentalism in the 21st Century” featured Jonathan Adler, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University and director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation. Adler is widely published in the field of environmental law.
Adler noted that in the past there were generally two responses to environmental problems from conservatives. One option is to agree to a more cost-effective solution, while the other is reflexive opposition—countering any proposal merely because of the party spearheading it.
“The dominant problem within free market environmentalism is not market value, but generally the failure to have markets—failure to have those institutions upon which markets are based present and protected in the environmental context,” he said.
Additionally, Reed Watson, Nicholas School and Law ’08, referenced “enviro-preneurs”—people who have an entrepreneurial idea and want to apply it to improve environmental quality—as part of a potential solution.
In order to have success within the environmental context, Watson emphasized that both liberals and conservatives need to adopt the idea that people should pay full price for the resources they consume and be paid for the vital resources they produce.
Enviro-preneurs who assume the rest of the world shares their environmental value system should expect to fail, though, Watson said. These people expect corporations to forego financial returns for environmental or social returns.
“If you don’t know how to frame the problem, we will never find a viable solution,” Adler said.
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Senior William Barlow, a member of the Duke College Republicans, noted in an email Monday that although many conservatives believe in climate change, they tend to tackle it the wrong way.
The combination of government aid in the research stage of alternative fuels and handing over obtained results to the free market in a subsidy-free environment will produce the best results for the future, both economically and environmentally, he said.
“Our responsibility as environmentally conscious Republicans is to help our fellow party members understand that you can be a conservative, believe in climate change and offer conservative solutions to climate change without losing your core values—in fact confirming your core values,” Barlow said.
Asher Spiller, a law student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an attendee of the conference, said he comes from a liberal background and was interested in gaining exposure to environmental discourse from the conservative perspective. He thought the arguments were well-articulated and were consistent with what he knew of conservative values.
Ligia Schlittler, an environmental lawyer from Brazil and a third-year Duke Law student focusing on environmental law and energy, also attended.
“It was very informative because the debates were very clear… and their approach was very practical and economic-oriented,” she said.
Roche noted that the environment does not need to be as contentious an issue as it is typically portrayed.
“Recently conservatives haven’t confronted environmental issues as head-on because it’s become so partisan, but the Republican Party was the party of Clean Air Act amendments and [Richard] Nixon began the [Environmental Protection Agency],” Roche said. “Environmental protection is, at its heart, a very conservative concept—you don’t want to ruin really good things.”
The event was hosted by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Nicholas School, the Duke Federalist Society, DCR and the Energy and Enterprise Initiative.