Designing Institutions for the Anthropocene

Ever since the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s, environmental policymakers have had one core mission: restore the balance of nature. The laws and regulations intended to achieve this objective are designed to halt further human “disruptions” of nature.

The truth is that there is no balance to be restored; there’s just an uncertain future. Humans may be able to influence that future, but they and all other living things must adapt to it, or perish. We should seek institutions that allow environmental policies to evolve along with changes in the environment and in response to shifting human preferences.

Although environmentalists often prefer to view their causes as the pursuit of a higher good, environmental protection and preservation are really just an aspect of the larger challenge of allocating scarce resources.

We should prefer the most decentralized approach that achieves our purposes. People closer to a problem usually have better knowledge of both the causes of the problem and the remedies likely to solve it.

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