Blue Ridge Naturalist: Everyone Should Practice Environmental Libertarianism

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This stream ran red into the Moormans River of western Albemarle following logging upon the adjacent mountain. The dirt-laden water pouring into the river was unfortunate not only for aquatic wildlife, but also for the future growth of trees on the mountain. Photo: Marlene Condon.

Flowering plants (angiosperms that make up more than 80 percent of green plants in the world) depend upon wildlife for their continued existence. Conversely, wildlife depends upon plants for its existence. It is a form of quid pro quo, in which both entities benefit from each other’s activities.

Humans, just like plants, also depend upon wildlife for their continued existence.  When people provide habitat for pollinators and numerous other kinds of critters, the animals provide people with the perpetuation of plants that provide oxygen and food, as well as great beauty in the form of flowers, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and oh, so very many creatures!

Yet it can be very difficult to get folks to do what is proper for the environment, which in the end, is also going to benefit neighbors near and far as well as wildlife nearby and down the road. The situation with the Chesapeake Bay is a prime example.

Although people are aware of the causes of the bay’s problems, many refuse to change their ways to help the Chesapeake Bay to recover. Their inaction has brought great harm to the people whose livelihoods were dependent upon a healthy bay chock full of sea life. Environmental libertarianism would never have allowed this to happen.

A right-to-the-point summation of the political philosophy of libertarianism is that it advocates allowing folks to do pretty much whatever they wish, especially on their own property, so long as they do not bring harm to others. The idea is that state intervention in the lives of citizens should be minimal. Therefore, so long as people are not causing difficulties for other people, there should be a minimum number of government regulations for citizens to abide by.

Indeed, if everyone practiced libertarian ideals with respect to the environment, we certainly would not need so much government interference in our lives. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency came into being only because people refused to take proper care of the environment that all of us depend upon for our own health and wellbeing.

When too many people will not act of their own accord to do what is right for the natural world—and thus their fellow citizens—there is absolutely no choice but to rein in their behavior with threats of fines, or jail, or whatever it takes. More recently, government had to step in to demand that companies manufacture more-energy-efficient light bulbs because people would rather leave lights unnecessarily burning than to flick a switch to turn them off.

And while some farmers have put up fencing to keep their cows and cow waste out of our waterways, others continue to allow their animals to enter streams at will, the Chesapeake Bay and the people dependent upon it for jobs be damned (please excuse the language). I have heard straight from farmers’ mouths that they do not believe waste from their cows is a major contributing factor of bay pollution that harms sea life, but chemistry proves these farmers to be in denial of the truth.

Of course, home and business owners, as well as government, are equally guilty, if not more so, of polluting the bay. On many of their properties, laborers mow and weed-whack every last plant to such an extent that the soil often becomes exposed and then dries out. If you come by as they are working, you can see soil dust-clouds created by their machines. The dirt settles out on roads, eventually washing into drains and streams that feed the Bay.

In our forests, loggers may not feel obliged to take adequate precautionary measures to limit erosion if the logging takes place high up on a mountain hidden from view.  However, a steady rain alerts those of us paying attention to the error of their ways.

I have seen more than one local stream run red with local clay during logging operations well out of eyesight, but not out of earshot. All that dirt ends up settling out eventually to smother aquatic habitat and wildlife.

Some folks leave trashcans out 24/7, creating a hazard for our wildlife. When people neglect to secure their trashcans so that animals cannot get into them, critters may eat plastic wrap because it smells like food, and die a horrible death due to intestinal obstruction. Bottles that were not cleaned up can lure and trap small animals.

The world would be a much nicer place in which to live if folks would just consider whether the things they do on their own land impact not only wildlife, but other people as well. On many a lovely day I have had to close my windows to keep the house from filling with smoke from neighbors burning yard debris (and sometimes plastic-laden trash, the fumes of which can cause cancer).

On those occasions, it is very upsetting that I am not able to bring fresh air inside, but it is also troubling to know that these folks are not letting their yard debris decay naturally. They would not be polluting the air, and they would be recycling organic matter while creating habitat for many different kinds of animals, such as lizards, salamanders, insects, and spiders.

We have so many environmental regulations because far too many people do not take proper care of the environment. Yet it is our moral duty to nurture it, and if everyone behaved morally in the first place, we would not need laws to make us behave appropriately.

I am not particularly political by nature, but I think it would be extremely worthwhile for people to start practicing environmental libertarianism, no matter what their political stripes may be. After all, a better world always begins at home.

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