Today’s “democratic socialists” adamantly argue that a more centralized economic system and expanded government role will serve as catch-all cures to the nation’s problems. Thanks to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and her “Green New Deal,” this includes efforts to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation. But the idea that socialism is good for the environment couldn’t be further from the truth.
Socialists see capitalism, with its strong emphasis on profit, as directly responsible for environmental disasters. Their solution to this problem? Have the government regulate more economic activity and restrict private property rights to ensure that transactions accurately reflect environmental costs.
This is where socialists get things wrong.
Capitalism has its issues, but the answer does not lie in increased government centralization, new regulations, or the elimination of certain private markets. Rather, addressing environmental problems effectively will require the bolstering of property rights and increasing the power of markets, not an expansion of government authority. We must not continue to leave decision-making power in the hands of unaccountable and uninformed bureaucrats.
A quick glance at socialism’s abysmal track record reveals that it, not capitalism, provides the textbook recipe for environmental catastrophe.
The Soviet Union, for example, constructed paper mills on the shores of Lake Baikal and diverted water from the Aral Sea to irrigate cotton fields. Both of these decisions directly contributed to two of the most devastating environmental tragedies ever seen. Lake Baikal soon became ravaged with pollution, and the Aral Sea shrunk considerably.
Similarly, the perils of overly centralized environmental policymaking can be seen in other socialist havens, such as Venezuela, which struggles with water quality and shortages; Cuba, which grapples with severe desertificatio;, and North Korea, which suffers from rampant deforestation.
Devout socialists will dismiss these disasters by claiming that none of these countries practice “real socialism.” This dishonest tactic is used to hide socialism’s inevitable tendency to lead to economic mismanagement and environmental failure.
The classic features of socialism — government-owned property, the elimination of profit, and distant bureaucratic decisionmaking — are highly conducive to the colossal environmental breakdowns we’ve seen in the USSR, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. Absent private property rights and profit, individuals lack any incentive to conserve land or protect the environment.
Agricultural land is overused, forests are depleted at unsustainable rates, and pollution increases without backlash or consequence. Compounding this downward spiral are the socialist central planners who, despite being in charge, lack the necessary information and expertise to coordinate economic activities and land use efficiently.
For instance, career bureaucrats in Moscow thought diverting water from the Aral Sea to support the cotton industry was a no-brainer, but locals familiar with the situation probably knew the decision was destined to fail. This type of centralized structure, a core tenet of socialism, removes decision power from those closest to an issue and leads to gross mismanagement of both the environment and economy.
Meanwhile, capitalism and private property foster competition, pushing individuals to use resources more efficiently. Competition-laden capitalism has created a race to discover the most innovative practices and is largely responsible for environmentally beneficial technologies such as carbon capture and battery storage.
If environmental failures are so pervasive in capitalist systems, then why do socialist countries lag behind in technology and produce the least-healthy environments? The answer lies in the fact that socialism ignores the elements necessary for environmental protection — property rights, financial incentives, and resource efficiency — that capitalism enshrines. Proponents will continue to insist that socialism has never been tried in its true form. But it has, and it leaves behind the same disastrous environmental legacy every single time.