Environment – a left or right issue?

I just another debate about the cost and benefits of Canada going green. It’s a bit ironic, don’t ya think, that this issue came to a massive head after the Conservatives took power in Ottawa. Before that it was percolating along but now it’s the big issue (in some polls trumping health care if you can believe it). Maybe we can blame Al Gore….


I have some trouble in my mind figuring out if this is a ‘left’ issue or a ‘right’ issue. I know that in our collective minds, it has been positioned as a left issue and championed by the NDP, Greens, etc. but for me it’s a bit confusing.

I have told you in the past of my far right wing post secondary education. That my favourite professor and even mentor (I worked as his TA for three years) advocated private roads, private money, the gold standard, severely limiting goverment, etc.

But interestingly, he and most of his colleagues looked at pollution in straight economic terms as an externality. Essentially a cost borne by society at large or at least not embedded in the cost of a specific product. Take the pollution from a pulp mill, for example. There is significant cost to the surrounding community (and even broader than that) that is not reflected in the cost of that product. This is an externality. It is either borne by the community through government or by a reduction in economic value elsewhere (say lead in fish for example), etc.

So, my so-called right wing professors were calling for efforts to define the value of these externalities and embed them in the cost of products way before Al Gore (but in the waning years of the Acid Rain crisis of the 1970s/1980s).

Now, it seems somewhat commonsensical (is that even a word?) that we would apply the same principles here.

Of course, I don’t think the greening of Canada should be done by triggering a national recession or anything so dramatic. But I think this can be done and I don’t think it’s a left/right issue. I think it’s just about agreeing that these ‘externalites’ do impose a broader cost on communities, society and the planet at large and that we need to find a way to embed this cost more accurately in our economic model.

But I’m not either an economist or an environmentalist to take with a grain of salt….

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0 Responses to Environment – a left or right issue?

  1. Anonymous says:

    So say Irving pollutes the air. That is an ‘externality’ to them. In the states, however, you could say that it isn’t the same type of externality as here in Canada, because companies have to provide health insurance.

    But its primarily an externality because of the way it is treated. Meaning, if you want to deal with it ‘in the market’ (assuming that’s what ‘right’ means), then you simply make penalties severe enough to affect a company’s bottom line, and don’t let the cost be tax deductible. Of course here they are both tax deductible, and so laughably small they can’t even be called externalities but ‘spitting in your face’.

    Currently, it is dealt with by ‘left’ forces, namely the government takes care of any cleanup costs that may come along.

    But that’s not all environmentalism is. If I am trying to sell solar panels, I am doing so in the market, meaning ‘right’, yet my competition is nuclear power, which is owned by government, meaning left. So the actual market forces are the ‘clean’ energy.

    Rather than ‘right’ and ‘left’, I would think it makes more sense to make the division as ‘seeing the environment as part of the economy’ or ‘seeing the economy as part of the environment’. That seems to be the big divide. The environment has the upper hand, until we can turn God or fate into a commodity.