The world's 150 governments often have great difficulty accomplishing very basic tasks, such as protecting people from crime. By contrast, its five billion people have shown that they can be incredibly resourceful and innovative in pursuing their own interests.

Yet environmental legislation over the last two decades has tended to empower governments rather than people. With the full backing, of the reactionary environmentalists, governments around the world pass laws which people find in their self-interest to evade or distort in order to satisfy some private purpose. Progressive environmentalism, by contrast, seeks to empower people – recognizing that environmental goals will always be unreachable unless the attainment of those goals in their individual self-interest.

Private Success, Government Failure. One reason for empowering individuals rather than governments is that people are often right when government is wrong. For example:

  • At a time when state governments awarded bounties for killing birds of prey (and when many people regarded the sport as patriotic because it gave young boys practice shooting live targets, thus preparing them for war), a concerned citizen helped found the private Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania to prevent the slaughter of thousands of hawks, falcons, ospreys, eagles, owls and other endangered birds. [80]

  • At a time when state governments awarded bounties for killing seals and sea lions, a for-profit corporation protected the only mainland breeding area for the endangered Steller sea lion. [81]

  • While the federal government owns only 4.7 million acres of wetlands and has encouraged the destruction of private wetlands, about 11,000 private duck clubs have managed to protect from five to seven million acres of wetlands from destruction. [82]

  • At a time when the federal government was encouraging environ­mental destruction on the Barrier Islands, the commercial interests at Hilton Head Island discovered that conservation was good business. [83]

  • While the federal government has subsidized environmental de­struction in our national forests, companies such as International Paper have discovered that good conservation pays on private forestland. [84]

Given the record of so many private sector successes, one would think that any reasonable environmental agenda would encourage even more private sector action. Yet the trend of recent policy has been in the opposite direction.

How Government Policy Penalizes Individual Environmental Accomplishments. One of the most surprising developments in environmental policy is the degree to which government penalizes and punishes environmental stewards in the private sector.

  • After a farmer in Florida discovered a bald eagle nesting in one of his trees, federal bureaucrats ordered him not to operate his tractor within one-half mile of the tree. The message to other farmers was: don't attract eagles. [85]

  • After a rancher in southern Oregon turned one of his fields into a marshland for wildlife, the state of Oregon declared his artificial marsh a "wetland" and prohibited him from altering it. The message to other farmers and ranchers was: don't create wetlands or other wildlife habitats. [86]

  • After a group of investors established a sea turtle farm in the Cay­man Islands, the U.S. government banned the importation of sea turtle products, causing the venture to fail. As a result, there are now fewer sea turtles and the message to others is: don't find profitable ways of protecting endangered species. [87]

These are not isolated examples. With few exceptions, the laws of every state outside of Texas prevent people from owning (which means protecting and defending) any indigenous wild game. When people make their property attractive to endangered birds and other species, they too often suffer huge costs once the bureaucrats discover that the activity actually works.