Free market environmentalism and rights-based economic instruments are also promoted by the conservative think tanks because they reinforce the idea of property rights. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) “aggressively promotes free market environmentalism” because of its belief “that where individual property rights exist in environmental resources, the environment is most likely to be protected.” According to the CEI:
America has long been known as a nation where private homes and backyards are beautiful but politically managed parks and streets are a mess. For some the answer is to raise taxes to better support the ‘cash starved’ public sector. For others the answer will be found in stringent regulations covering every aspect of modern society. A better approach would be to discover what makes homes and backyards beautiful and apply the lessons to problem areas. Rather than bureaucratize the environment, we should privatize our efforts to protect the environment.... behind every tree should stand a private steward, a private owner, willing and legally enabled to protect that resource.
Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) also uses property rights as a way of protecting the environment: "Property rights are the best way to conserve anything — land, buildings and all renewable natural resources. Property rights give a stake in the long-term value of a resource."
Economic instruments are being advocated as a technocratic solution to environmental problems which is premised on the conservative think tank’s view of the problem—that environmental degradation is caused by a failure to ‘value’ the environment and a lack of properly defined property rights. By allowing this redefinition of the environmental problem, environmentalists and others not only forestall criticism of the market system but in fact implicitly agree that an extension of markets is the only way to solve the problem.
Within this framework of general acceptance of the ‘market’, the issues of ‘capitalist development’ and ‘ecological sustainability’ have tended to congeal around the theme of environmental costs and how best to reduce these. The social relations of the market itself are not brought into question; the solution is not seen as involving a major social transformation or radical economic restructuring.
Yet the market, far from being free or operating efficiently to allocate resources in the interests of society, is dominated by a small group of large multinational corporations which aim to maximise their private profit by exploiting nature and human resources.