No, it’s not a joke. It’s the finding from a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The argument is school choice leads to more driving which results in more vehicle emissions. The abstract says, “that eliminating district-wide school choice (i.e., returning to a system with neighborhood schools only) would have significant impacts on transport modes and emissions” and the findings “underscore the need to critically evaluate transportation-related environmental and health impacts of currently proposed changes in school policy.”

George Mason economist Don Boudreaux appropriately responds in an open letter to the authors:

Why stop with education? Perhaps another future study can be on the environmental impact of supermarket choice. After all, with people free to drive wherever they wish to buy groceries, it’s almost certainly the case that too many of us drive hither and yon unnecessarily, wasting our time and fouling the air. I’ll bet that your research will show that restricting each American to shopping only at that supermarket nearest to his or her home will reduce vehicular emissions and, hence, help the environment.

Indeed, the possibilities suggested by your research are infinite. No telling how much filth is spit into our environment everyday by people needlessly driving to churches, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms, physicians’ offices, night clubs – even friends’ homes – when they could easily go to (and, hence, should forcibly be restricted to) churches, restaurants, etc. – and even to the homes of friends – who are located closer to their where they live.”

Although it sounds implausible and probably is, environmental policies designed to restrict consumer choice already exist or members of our government are proposing them. Our government is picking off individual freedoms and slowly but surely reducing consumer choice. Vehicle regulations to increase fuel efficiency make cars smaller and less safe. The phase-out of incandescent light bulb will commence in 2012. There are some who want to ban bottled water because it creates too much waste and uses too much energy.

And if there are serious concerns about vehicle emissions, we should measure the inconsequential effects additional driving would have on health and global warming against the benefits of school choice. Having choice is an invaluable benefit of being an American and the more the government attempts to restrict it, the less it will be taken for granted.