The bureaucratic approach to environmental problems asks: How can we empower politicians to force people to do what is not in their self-interest? The results of the bureaucratic approach are rules and regulations which everyone has an incentive to violate, manipulate or distort.

The progressive approach asks: How can we use government policy to empower people and create positive incentives for problem-solving? Under this approach, private citizens have a self-interest in protecting the rules which government establishes. Progressive environmentalism does not assume there is a once-and-for-all solution to every environmental problem. Instead, it seeks to create institutions under which individuals acting in their own self-interest can continue to solve problems which large bureaucracies can never solve. The following is a brief list of techniques for achieving this objective.

Wherever Possible, Let Government Be a Protector of Rights Rather Than Owner and Manager of Natural Resources. Some of the worst environmental atrocities, as we shall see, have occurred on land owned and managed by government agencies – atrocities that never would have occurred without government subsidies, financed by taxpayer dollars. Better results are achieved when there are many diverse owners – each pursuing different ways of protecting and enhancing the value of their property. Governments can set the broad framework and the parameters, leaving people free to solve the millions of unique problems found around the world.

Wherever Possible, Create Ownership Rights to Achieve Environmental Goals. Many people regard property rights as a restriction on freedom because the owners are able to thwart trespassers who otherwise would have used the resource for "free." In fact, property rights expand freedom of action, giving people opportunities they otherwise would not have. Property rights empower owners by giving them the right to protect and defend their resource. But property rights also create opportunities for everyone else. All nonowners are potential owners, and the existence of property rights makes everyone else a potential buyer of those rights.

Many environmental groups (for example, the Nature Conservancy) have been able to obtain and preserve ecologically sensitive land precisely because land can be bought and sold. Private environmental organizations have been far less successful in preserving rivers, streams, lakes and bays, and in protecting endangered species, because often no rights to these resources can be purchased.

Wherever Possible, Let Market Prices Allocate Resources. Market prices give people economic incentives and change behavior much more quickly than arbitrary regulations. The price system is also the most efficient mechanism for communicating with people all over the world. As is the case for ivory from elephant tusks, once people realize that something is valuable they have incentives to protect and defend it and prevent its destruction.

Many people regard a price for activities such as fishing, hiking and recreational activities as an unfair barrier to the use of resources which should be "free." But a price of zero for these activities communicates the worst possible message: that the use of rare and valuable resources has no social cost. When fishing clubs in England charge, they are communicating to fishermen that far from being a costless resource, rivers and streams are valuable. A market price encourages users to conserve – to limit their use of the resource in order to maintain its value. At the same time, high prices for the use of resources give entrepreneurs strong economic incentives to find ways of making more areas available for fishing and recreation.

Create Opportunities for Homesteading and Adoption in the Environmental Commons. Homesteading was the method used to administer the largest privatization of land in history. The principle was that when people made improvements to land, they should benefit by acquiring ownership rights. If this principle were extended to ground water or to ocean resources, people would have economic incentives to invest in conservation.

A similar principle governs adoption statutes in some African countries – whereby villagers can acquire ownership rights in rare animals such as elephants. These techniques need to be expanded to encourage people to protect and defend endangered fish and wildlife which would otherwise be abandoned to the "commons."

Adopt the Polluter-Pays Principle. Whether in driving a car or working in a factory that contributes to air or water pollution, in most places people realize no economic gain from the reduction of pollutants and bear no economic cost if they cause an increase in pollutants. If we agree that clean air and clean water have value, and if we want people to perceive and act on that premise, then pollution deterrence should be as individualized as possible. Through fines and fees, the establishment of ownership rights and the use of new technology, we should strive toward a system under which people who pollute bear a direct cost that rises with the amount they pollute and the damage their pollutants cause.

Give People Choices Over the Allocation of Their Environmental Tax Dollars. Currently, a number of state governments allow people to divert a fraction of their state tax dollars to environmental programs – private, nonprofit as well as governmental. [123] This practice should be expanded. If people were allowed to allocate some portion of their taxes to any qualified nonprofit organization or public agency, where the money went would be governed by competition and individual choice rather than by politicians.