Environmentalism vs Social Justice

Today I was thinking about a conundrum that befalls many of today’s progressive christians (as well as progressive secularists as well).

Many environmental reforms that have been, and are being, put into action today have a negative effect on the poorest here in America. What is more important in progressive circles? Is it protecting the poorest in our country, or is it making sure that the environment is safe?

Maybe you’ve never thought of this before, so I’ll give you an example. In many places in California, communities are enforcing environmental protection laws that prohibit housing development in many of the nicest areas to live. These laws are trying to protect green areas from encroaching suburban development. What they also do is create a concrete supply of housing, which, in essence, raises property values to levels that prohibit any middle and lower income level families from moving in. If you don’t believe me, check out average housing cost in the San Francisco area. In some places, a house with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths is 800,000 dollars . The same house in Nashville would not cost more than 150,000 dollars.

Another example is the ridiculous air pollution standards that liberals want to impose on industry end up costing companies lots of money. Money that doesn’t end up coming out of the pockets of the execs, but out of the pockets of the working guys and girls. Its the same situation with raising income taxes (or creating windfall profit taxes). Things that are designed to help the poor actually hurt them.

But that’s beside the point. The question is… if you know that environmental regulation is going to hurt the poor… do you choose the Earth or the Poor?

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7 responses to “Environmentalism vs Social Justice

  1. I hear you on this topic. Some of it does have to do with protecting green areas. Where I live, one of the factors is “unbuildable” land like mountains. This was never an issue when I lived in Dallas or in Memphis, where people can continue to stretch the boundaries of the city and build out and out. Where I live, you can’t find a condo, not a house but just a condo, for under $400,000 – and thats a piece of crap condo.

  2. You’re right Allen, there are other factors that make housing values higher. But environmental regulations are definitely a big factor. I have heard of some cities in California that are banning development of any property within city limits. Sounds like rich getting richer and poor getting poorer to me.

  3. Justin, you wrote,

    Another example is the ridiculous air pollution standards that liberals want to impose on industry end up costing companies lots of money. Money that doesn’t end up coming out of the pockets of the execs, but out of the pockets of the working guys and girls. Its the same situation with raising income taxes (or creating windfall profit taxes). Things that are designed to help the poor actually hurt them.

    You’re substituting price for cost. All pollution has a greater long term cost than the price it takes to clean it up. Look no further than Appalachia, for example, and the effects that impoverished locals feel from the shoddy (or nonexistent) cleanup of mines by negligent companies. Widespread cancer, too, is more expensive than the price of the cleanup of carcinogens; likewise asthma.

  4. You’re right HG, there are costs to pollution. However, what has to be found is the, I guess, area where the cost of people getting sick meets the benefit of people having jobs. Its a hard area to find. I don’t know that I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure that neither businesses nor environmentalists have the answer. I would say that businesses probably are closer to the answer, because they are held liable by people. If they are polluting like crazy, people will be upset and possibly stop using their products. The environmental lobby doesn’t have any incentive to not punish business as much as possible. Its a hard thing to figure out, but I don’t think there is much menaingful dialogue going on. Most of it is partisanship.

  5. If all businesses that pollute created a direct-to-consumer product, your point about what’s purchased and what’s not might fly, but they don’t. For example, what control do “consumers” have to effect the profits of war profiteers in Iraq? To simplify economics to producers and consumers is to miss the realities of contemporary life.

    And the discussions are being had. See the blog I linked to above, Environmental Economics, as a place to start.

  6. Sorry, I didn’t see the above link. I was reading the comment quickly in my email and I missed it somehow. That was interesting. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to subscribe to that blog.

  7. The blog’s a little wonky, but yes, also interesting.

    FYI, the cost Appalacian coal mining, which I mentioned above, is a case in point re: producers/consumers. Mine companies are rarely based in Kentucky or West Virginia; they sell their coal nationwide. Moreover, mines thrive on lax regulations and extensive governmental subsidies. Many more people benefit from artificially cheap coal than are immediately affected by the mining. However, the cost is great and will multiply over time to affect people not only in Appalacia, but also across the eastern seaboard.

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