June 5, 1986
Today the United Nations observes World Environment Day. The United States joins in this celebration, affirming our belief that the most important resource of any nation is its people. The successful promotion of resource conservation and wise stewardship, like the development of both human and material resources, depends on the institutional arrangements which permit the free exercise of human creativity. Americans have valued highly personal liberty and have favored institutions which permitted a wide range of individual activity largely free of social and political constraints. Yet the freedoms which we enjoy have not been secure in many other lands or at most other times throughout history.
Working over the past four centuries through the institutions of limited government, secure property, personal liberty, individual enterprise, and voluntary association, Americans turned a nearly unpopulated continent into a prosperous, peaceful, and protective home for 240 million persons. To be sure, America was blessed with vast amounts of farmland, timber, water, and minerals. Nevertheless, it took hard work, sacrifice, daring, initiative, and a willingness to risk failure by millions of free men and women to create the kind of society Americans enjoy today. Americans have been so successful at making intelligent use of their land and its resources that many people believe the effort to sustain our current standard of living long into the future will bring about the exhaustion of natural resources as well as unacceptable environmental damage.
While it is a truism that this is a finite world with physical limits to resources, it is not correct to conclude that, therefore, the Nation will eventually lose the ability and the resources necessary to sustain modern civilization. In practice this should never occur because as a given resource is used up its price rises, stimulating conservation, the search for additional supplies, and substitution of new resources for the depleted one. A superior natural resources policy is one that favors those institutions by which new resources are substituted for old ones: individual enterprise, guided by the price signals of the market, and technological advances that conserve resources and permit them to be used more efficiently. For example, in the past 5 years, America has transformed an energy crisis into energy abundance by increasing our production, by using our energy more efficiently, by conservation, and by diversifying our supplies. We have rightly placed our trust in our people; in the strength of American businesses, large and small; and in the belief that we were not running out of energy, only imagination.
One month ago today, seven leaders of the free world met in one of the largest capital cities in the world: Tokyo, Japan. That country is a free and prosperous nation of many people and few natural resources. Like its neighbors surrounding the Pacific, it is thriving dynamically through free exchange, building on its rich cultural heritage. While we were there, we adopted the Tokyo Declaration: Looking Forward to a Better Future, and we declared our obligation to pass on to future generations a healthy environment and a culture rich in both spiritual and material values. We observed that personal initiative, individual creativity, and social justice are the main sources of progress in the world. The United States pledged there, and we renew our pledge to the world today: "More than ever we have all to join our energies in the search for a safer and healthier, more civilized and prosperous, free and peaceful world.'' In so doing, all the nations of the world can join us in facing the future with confidence.