Free economies are clean economies

COP27 Climate Summit
Climate activists work on a sign that reads “don’t be scared of climate justice” at the designated protest zone for the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Free economies are clean economies

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If you buy the gloom and doom from the extreme environmentalists, you’d think that the Earth’s climate is spiraling out of control, causing everything from the border crisis to the energy crisis. On top of the alarmism, the alleged “solutions” involve elites telling you what kind of car to drive, what kind of food to eat, and what type of power we should use. It’s easy to see why so many people are turned off at the mention of climate change.

For too long, the climate discussion has been driven by extremists who have used the topic to institute top-down, central planning that hurts people for minimal, if any, benefit to the planet. The “ban fossil fuels and go all in on renewables” crowd fails to consider the many trade-offs and practical realities of our complex energy systems.


Oil, gas, and coal must be extracted, processed, and burned to create energy, which creates air pollution. Nuclear fuel must be processed, used, and disposed of very carefully. Wind and solar technologies must be manufactured in large amounts of energy and land, become a waste management challenge when they have aged out, and only produce electricity intermittently, if the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

At the same time, oil, gas, and coal have been tremendous drivers of lifting people out of poverty. Nuclear energy has the safest and cleanest track record. And harnessing the wind and sun to produce energy actually makes a lot of sense.

All of these forms of energy have their place in the world, but each comes with trade-offs.

The real question is what kind of world will it be? Will it be a world under heavy-handed government mandates, rationing, and restrictions in the name of saving the planet from changing climates? Or will it be a world that flourishes with freedom and prosperity, where people can determine their destinies, free from oppression and poverty, motivated to steward the environment in which they live?

When given the opportunity to be free, people choose freedom. The good news for the environment is that freedom has an impressive track record.

As C3 Solutions shows in our second annual Free Economies are Clean Economies report, with a special foreword by Ed Feulner, the founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, countries that are economically free are almost twice as clean as countries that are economically unfree.

Milton Friedman is right when it comes to not just our economic environment but our natural environment. No one washes a rental car. But when people are free to control their own destiny and property, choose where they work, and choose what they produce, consume, and invest, the environment flourishes. The government’s role is to help those bottom-up actors succeed by allowing labor, capital, and goods to move freely and refraining from coercion or constraint of freedom beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain freedom itself.

Looking at the data, which we did using the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, it highlights what most people instinctively already know to be true. Communism, socialism, and authoritarian forms of government are terrible for the environment. Look at the track records of China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran, and the facts are indisputable.

Contrary to the increasingly pervasive narrative these days among environmental extremists, democracy is the best form of government for the environment.

Climate change is a global problem and one that affects the poorer developing countries the most. The solution is not to make the developed countries poorer, but to make the developing countries more prosperous.

As Feulner puts it, “as economic freedom increases, economic growth leads to environmental improvement.” That’s good news that deserves to break through the doomism.


Drew Bond is the president and co-founder of C3 Solutions and a former senior adviser to the Department of Energy under President George W. Bush.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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