I am a reformed environmentalist, having earned a PhD in chemical engineering with specialization in renewables technology. Up until the moment I realized I was an ignorant A student, I believed the standard dogmas of environmentalism:
1) Man's economic activity always hurts the environment.
2) Man is too stupid and corrupt to ever get it right on his own.
3) Nature is too weak to heal itself.
4) All environmental health can be determined through measurable, reportable numbers.
5) Therefore, some men must be given nearly unlimited power and resources to scientifically manage Nature and Mankind.
I was going to be one of those scientific managers, it would have been a great gig. But the Lord has other plans, I learned the truth, and now I dedicate my time to finding solutions that do not involve treating people like lab mice. The truth is, real freedom is better for the environment, and I'm going to show you how.
Environmentalism was once called conservation, back when people understood the original meaning of the word conservative. Both words derive from conserve, and both have to do with conserving relationships.
In the case of conservatism, the original conservatives, like Edmund Burke, understood people as existing in connection to their family members, with their local church, neighborhood, local associations, and the like. The key here is that there were not only people, but an entire connected system, an economy if you will, in which everyone is connected to each other through a web of relationships. And for the sake of protecting these people, you should not walk in and arbitrarily screw with these relationships, at the risk of destroying the entire society.
Conservationism can be seen in the same context, and specifically in the sense that people live in a relationship with the local environment. You cannot walk in and simply rearrange everything - even if you modify the local environment, you must respect the land, understand it, and if you build, you must build considering both the land and the people who will be impacted by the project. Christopher Alexander, in The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth, calls this process of building "living" space that respects these relationships "System A."
In contrast, we have "System B," which sees everything as externally manageable numbers, and sees a local environment as an obstacle. Usually it is erased, and then replaced with a very predictable design, in complete isolation from its environment. As you can imagine, environmental harm is predictable.
Now, notice here that the issue is not some arbitrary numbers drawn up by professors you never heard of. The underlying issue here is the System B philosophy of erase and replace. In development and city planning this is expressed as development which assumes that maximum revenue is the only variable. In environmentalism, sadly, this also means creating policies that are aimed at making arbitrary metrics go up... or down. The big picture of the people and the land they live on never comes into the picture, both are just an empty parking lot to a politician.
Over time, I've come to learn that true conservationism is not measured with numbered, but in relationships that need to be restored.
Politicians like Bernie Sanders will drone on constantly about the need for a "living wage," but the truth is, $7.25 an hour is a living wage, if you legalize a living, System A society.
But here's the "scary" part. Living, System A houses are unpredictable. They will have changing size, and changing property values. When the owner gets good at working his property he may just take 3 months off of work because he has no debt, can provide for his family, and simply not need to work. And if he has all of that "free time" he might read too much and decide he doesn't really need a giant City Hall that plays Santa Claus. With no debt, he might even start producing goods locally, making the nearby mall irrelevant. For that matter, what if the homeless suddenly realize that $500 can build a tiny earthbag house, and no longer be homeless and dependent on substandard services? Worst of all, free people might produce their own culture that doesn't fall in line with the NY/LA Axis!
In this way, we can see that a truly free society also works with its local environment, and fosters relationships in addition to the man-earth relationship. Over time, people not only become environmentally sustainable, but also financially self-sustained. Instead of being consumers, System A people become true producers. Some would use the free society as a home base and take big risks in innovation. Some might become producers of culture.
What stops this are the quislings in the City Hall/corporate crony axis who want to turn their jurisdiction into a predictable cash mill. In this arrangement, there are professionals buying $250-500k houses, paying big property taxes, which can be laundered away through no-bid contracts and campaign contributions. Free people would never sign onto this, hence the need for "education" to tell children that the only way to "Save the Earth" is by getting a grant to build overpriced solar panels for fundamentally unsustainable homes, buildings, and infrastructure.
But if we really are concerned about the Earth, we must also be concerned about freedom. We must stop living on the "earn and spend as much as possible" treadmill, and start asking why our local environment is arranged the way it is. Maybe, just maybe, we will find that some of the "innovations" from 1940s city planning that were "for your sake" need to be removed, and real freedom to make real decisions be allowed in again.