Environmentalism without Romance

Public choice theory, as James Buchanan argued, “models the realities rather than the romance of political institutions.” Politicians, bureaucrats, and voters are motivated primarily by their own self-interest rather than the public interest.

Politics is not the only area where we are subject to romantic tendencies. Environmentalism arguably elicits even greater romantic sentiments. Notions of harmony with “Mother Nature,” and pristine wilderness, are prominent in modern discussions of environmental issues.

Although ecologists are discovering that the natural world is characterized by perpetual change and dramatic human influence, environmental policies remain based on assumptions of equilibrium and pristine nature. If there is no true balance of nature to which we must restore environmental conditions, and if there is no pristine nature untouched by human action, then on what basis should we determine environmental policies?

Environmental problems are a question of how to resolve competing human demands on an ever changing natural world. Nature is as ever changing as the demands that humans place on it.

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