Green Politics: Baptists, Bootleggers and Spotted Owls

A sure way to know more about where you stand on an issue is to stand in someone else’s shoes.

Many thanks to Professor Barbour for bringing Professor Jack Rabin to speak with our Rutgers Environmental Stewards class this week. Professor Rabin passionately believes that the best way to conserve natural resources is to protect and expand private property rights.

Professor Rabin’s lecture has me thinking hard about environmental resource economics, personal property rights and environmental regulatory actions as a blunt tool.

The tensions between personal rights and the public good usually keep people far apart from agreement. I knew that going in.

What I hadn’t considered is how these tensions can create unintended, unexpected alliances and strange bedfellows.

For example, imagine Baptists who find themselves unexpectedly allied with Bootleggers to enact Blue Laws. They want the same result, albeit for different reasons. The Baptists gets a day where people can’t buy liquor and hopefully will come to church. The Bootlegger gets a competition-free day to sell his booze. They are willing to work together to achieve their own goals.

Turns out this surprising dynamic appears in lots of environmental conflicts. Now that I am aware of it, I’ll be keeping a lookout.

While I don’t agree with Professor Rabin on all counts, I think we can agree, unequivocally, that balance and respect will go a long way to solving our country’s energy and environmental issues.

I appreciated the chance to engage in truly civil discourse. As Professor Barbour put it: arguing in good faith rather than arguing to win at all costs.

Perhaps there are win-win resolutions just wanting to be discovered in our horn-locked positions on the environment and energy issues.

View Professor Rabin’s presentation: Property Rights and the Environment: Baptists, Bootleggers and Spotted Owls