April 22 is Lenin’s Birthday. It also happens to be Earth Day. This is probably not a coincidence, as my colleague R. J. Smith notes at Openmarket. R. J. is one if the longest standing proponents of free-market environmentalism and private conservation, so was there at the time. He recounts:
Most of the news I got on the student movement came from my friend the late Wilson A. Clark, Jr., a maverick Misesian, Randian, Schumacherite, small-is-beautiful libertarian and author of Energy for Survival and Energy, Vulnerability and War. …
Wilson told me that the greatest coup was holding Earth Day on Lenin’s Birthday and that most of the environmental movement’s leaders still didn’t get it. You can find endless discussions on how April 22 was selected. It had to be in the spring. It had to be during spring break, when most college kids were free, and when there were no exams. On and on.
While it is entirely possible, and indeed probable, that Gaylord Nelson and other establishment greens did not deliberately pick Lenin’s birthday to celebrate Earth Day, I believe the young anti-capitalist students knew precisely what they were doing in selecting April 22. Was it sheer coincidence they would select Lenin’s 100th birthday—out of 365 days in the year—to celebrate the first Earth Day? I find it hard to believe.
Most environmental economists of the time believed that only socialist countries would ably protect the environment, because the governments there were acting for the good of all mankind, while capitalists in the West cared only about profit maximization and not a whit about the environment. Thus it was no surprise that the conventional wisdom would turn a generation of young people towards socialism as the only way to protect the Earth.
Of course, as we now know, socialist countries were responsible for far greater environmental degradation than those students ever dreamed of — the virtual disappearance of the Aral Sea, for instance. Yet mainstream environmentalism continues to cling strongly to socialist economics (or highly regulated, government-directed, “market-based” economics, which still falls foul of the Hayekian critique). And many in the environmental movement still cling to anti-human zero-population-growth ideas that were prominent at that first Earth Day, as another colleague, Richard Morrison, details at the Daily Caller.
R. J. concludes by noting just how much better off we and the environment might have been if another day had been chosen:
Over time the theory of free market environmentalism and private conservation has been developed and continued to grow, demonstrating that the root cause of environmental degradation had been the absence of clearly defined and enforceable property rights in land, water, air, natural resources, and wildlife, and that the expansion of the use of the institutions of a free society—property rights, markets, and prices—would have largely prevented or greatly reduced the levels of environmental degradation.
Had the first Earth Day been celebrated on Adam Smith’s birthday, June 16, instead of Vladimir Lenin’s, the Earth would be a freer, more prosperous and greener place. But that is a story for another day.
It’s a story CEI will continue to tell.