For Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, President Obama and the White House released a video praising Americans for our environmental awareness, and urging us to get personally involved with improving our local environments. The president’s message of individual responsibility is commendable but his message that we’ll spend and regulate our way to a clean energy economy is troubling.

“It’s clear change won’t come from Washington alone,” the president said in his message. The reality is that most productive change comes from outside Washington. The government is good at obstructing that progress or creating regulations that lag behind the improvements made organically. For instance, President Obama praised the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act but air and water quality were improving before the passage of these bills. While the right government regulations certainly play a role, often they are prohibitively expensive and even counterproductive. Take the Endangered Species Act, for instance, which creates perverse incentives for landowners to destroy their land if endangered species become an economic liability. Jonathan Adler, law professor at Case Western, explains,

“Landowners have been known to destroy or degrade potential habitat on their land preemptively in order to prevent the imposition of the act’s requirements. It is not illegal to modify land that might become endangered species habitat some day in the future, nor are landowners required to take affirmative steps to maintain endangered species habitat beyond refraining from actions that “harm” endangered species.”

Yet government is fighting to put in place more environmental regulations that will make it exceedingly difficult for businesses and individuals to develop economically while also protecting the environment. His vehicle for this change is to transition to a clean energy economy saying, “We have rejected the notion that we have to choose between creating jobs and a healthy environment.” The problem is that the President wants to force this transition through subsidies, mandates and set-asides.

Unfortunately, the President’s plan is critical flawed in two regards. First, he assumes that money grows on trees. In other words, he does not consider the economic harm caused by taking money from one, more efficient part of the economy and giving it to some other, less efficient sector. This mistake demonstrates the second flaw, which is that government knows how to spend money better than the private sector.

Together, these assumptions will inhibit our economic growth and our ability to protect the environment. These policies will lead us to less prosperity, more unemployment and higher energy costs—and fewer resources to commit to the environment. Further, it will stifle the technological advancements that have allowed Americans to grow economically without destroying the environment, and in many cases, those advancements improve our environmental well-being. The President’s attempt to pick energy winners and losers in tandem with a growing regulatory burden will significantly impact this ability. The reality is enterprise and innovation are the basis for why we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment. These processes allow us to save money and be more efficient.

President Obama’s video message was certainly not all bad. He is right to congratulate Americans for environmental strides our nation has made, but he needs to remember how we got here. It stems from policies that create wealth and prosperity that allow us to care for the environment and the establishment of private property rights that give individuals the proper incentives look after what they own.

Instead of forcing individuals to change their behaviors through top down, federal regulations, environmental improvements can happen on a local level; President Obama seemed to agree. He said, “I want you to take action in your home or your community, at your school or your business, to improve our environment.” This is praiseworthy advice from the president. It is an attitude respecting the role of personal responsibility in the care and beautification of our personal environments. It is an ultimately capitalistic attitude, recognizing both the value and necessity of individual, local, and entrepreneurial action when it comes to improving our environment. It is an attitude that Heritage can get behind.

Allie Winegar Duzett, a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation, co-authored this post.