It’s fashionable in some libertarian circles to dismiss global warming but I think sustainability is very libertarian.
Think about property rights. For example, it’s pretty obvious that if you dump your trash on my front porch, or more accurately my front stoop, that’s a crime against my property. If your factory belches smoke that provably gives my kid asthma that’s a crime against his person. If you use resources without paying for them, in a way that provably and permanently damages the planet, at worst you are committing a crime against the property of many and at best you are being a selfish meany who wouldn’t be very popular or successful in a functioning libertarian society.
Being libertarian ought to be about paying for the resources you consume whether it’s exotic hardwood for the fretboard on my next 5 string or whether it’s a cubic foot of clean air. Of course the exotic hardwood is expensive and the (relatively) clean air – so far – is pretty cheap. There’s that free market at work. That part seems pretty easy.
It’s gets a little difficult to prove you are causing my kids’ asthma or global warming. It’s also pretty hard to pin down my rights to air. It’s made more difficult by the fact that our rulers make decisions in the back rooms about how much asthma we can accept in order to keep those workers working and the campaign contributions coming. National standards for vehicle emissions or smoking bans might be considered a little arbitrary compared to decentralized decisions based on free will and the market. That’s why those types of decisions need to be left up to the court system and the markets. Of course those decisions won’t be perfect but they will be pretty good and a whole lot better than decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats.
Smoking bans are a great example. Not too long ago an otherwise intelligent person suggested to me that smoking was somehow similar to dumping garbage on his lawn. That’s not the first time I have heard such nonsense. Comparing smoke that I exhale in your general vicinity and that dissipates in a second and that you can walk away from, to dumping garbage on your lawn is complete nonsense. It’s provably your lawn and the garbage will be there for a few days or a few weeks unless you or I remove it. Please don’t waste my time if that’s the best you can do. Smoking bans are nothing more than our rulers imposing their own morality on us just because they can.
Let’s talk about vehicle emissions. I personally believe vehicle emissions reduce my quality of life considerably. I wonder if the smoking ban supporters are willing to ante up to compensate me for that. You can easily walk away from cigarette smoke in most cases. Unless you want to buy me a spaceship I can’t really walk away from vehicle emissions. If you decide not to drink (or work) in my smoking bar you haven’t lost much. If I have to leave the city or the planet to escape your vehicle emissions it costs me a great deal.
So how could a libertarian solution help?
Re-writing history is always a little speculative but consider the myriad of ways that government has worked against the market to increase gasoline use:
-military control of the middle east to reduce gas costs
-GI Bill that promoted suburban housing
-protectionist tariffs on high fuel efficiency cars
-Monday holidays to promote vacationing
-Tax incentives on heavy SUVs
I’m sure there are many more. See my point?
If we pretty much agree that things are not going so well at the moment, whether it’s global warming or foreign policy, or health care, or terrorism, maybe we should try something different.
Big government isn’t the solution. It’s the problem.