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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The High Environmental Cost of Too Much Freedom

Social conservatives have long argued that radical individualism—the essence of modern freedom—is corrosive to family and community life, and, if left unchecked, can even lead to civilizational collapse.  But another, perhaps more damning, charge today is that individualism is bad for the environment.  This seems paradoxical, as modern man sees himself as the quintessential environmentalist and his modern “freedom-loving” societies as the world’s environmental leaders.  Underlying this green rhetoric, there is the simple fact that modern freedoms are ultimately material freedoms.  As such, they are dependent on energy and resource flows.  The more freedom, the more resources used, and the greater the pressures on the physical environment.

Freedom-loving societies have the highest levels of resource consumption on earth—by far.  America is the paragon of individual freedom; she is also the global leader in resource use.  We have five percent of the world’s population, yet consume a quarter of the world’s resources.  The industrial nations of Europe and Asia, who often see America as the world’s great environmental villain, are not far behind.  Together with the United States, all of the world’s freedom-loving nations (the so-called advanced industrial democracies) comprise about 25 percent of the population and consume about 75...

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