The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a conservative/libertarian non-profit think tank, has released Environmental Policy and Unintended Consequences—Eight Case Studies from Around the World. The study, from Ben Eisen and Kenneth Green, examines a series of case studies that demonstrate how the law of unintended consequences has often frustrated policymakers in the area of environmental policy.
Specifically, these case studies demonstrate how well-meaning efforts by governments to protect the environment have, on occasion, backfired, resulting in severe harm to human beings and, in some instances, to the natural environment regulators sought to protect.
Examples of unintended consequences include:
An environmental disaster on Macquarie Island
- How the Australian government’s effort to protect local vegetation by destroying the rabbit population on an island near Antarctica backfired and brought the island to the brink of an “ecosystem meltdown” and threatened local bird species with extinction.
The great golf cart boom of 2009
- An American subsidy designed to promote the purchase of electric vehicles for the sake of energy conservation was exploited by clever golf cart salesmen who recognized that their products fit under the government’s definition of an electric car. The salesmen began to give away “free” golf carts to consumers, with the entire bill being passed along to the government.
- The subsidization of biofuels such as ethanol have led to the destruction of rainforests, increased greenhouse gas emissions, a wasteful use of freshwater resources, and increases in the price of food that hurt the world’s poor.
Fuel economy standards, highway fatalities, and increased driving
- This case study looks at how fuel economy standards for cars increased driving and helped create the SUV boom.
“Sometimes, these consequences have been a distortion of economic incentives leading to lost economic production or wasted government resources. In other cases, the consequences were much more severe, leading to illness and death for thousands of human beings,” write the study’s authors. “Policymakers need to incorporate the law of unintended consequences in the development of environmental policy; those laws demonstrate the need for humility and caution on the part of policymakers when they consider interventions in enormously complex social, economic and ecological systems for the sake of environmental protection.”
The policy series can be found at http://www.fcpp.org/publication.php/3303