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People from all sides of the political spectrum are concerned about climate change and rightly so. There is an overwhelming abundance of evidence that the climate is changing in ways that will make it harder for the Earth to sustain its current population levels. There is also an abundance of evidence, contrary to what the Trump administration would like you to believe, that humans have played a role in accelerating climate change. 

downloadMany consider climate change an issue that libertarians cannot address without violating the non-aggression principle. Since it’s always more advantageous in the short term for a country to be using fossil fuel resources, every country will do so unless some coalition forces everyone not to. It’s the old tragedy of the commons example writ large. The tragedy of the commons is the observation that with commonly owned resources, some percentage of people will take actions that benefit them in the short term, but leave few or no resources for anyone else. Common examples are unsustainable fishing practices or dumping of toxic waste.

The situation is not as hopeless as it first seems, though. There are ways to save the environment that do not stray from deeply held libertarian principles. You just need to be a bit clever and audacious. One solution to the tragedy of the commons is to simply not have commons. If all land is privately owned, then someone is responsible for every single square mile of the earth. This extends to the oceans as well; one can easily imagine someone buying a section of the ocean to secure fishing rights or salt mining rights. There’s even a certain amount of gold and other precious metals suspended in the water column. Who’s to say they won’t be mined one day? (more…)

The end of humanity is near!…or so hyperbolic media outlets VICE and Complex would like you to believe.  A recent report from Climate Central, an organization that monitors climate change, found that Earth’s atmospheric carbon level breached 400 PPM. This number gets cited as the threshold for major global warming trends even though its largely symbolic. The current carbon crisis should not be thought of as a harbinger of apocalypse but a challenge for innovators.

Economic analysis emphasizes substitution as a possible solution to change outcomes. The first step towards ameliorating our atmospheric carbon problem relies on the act of substitution. A classic example of substitution occurred with tinfoil, which was quietly replaced by aluminum when the cost of tin cut too heavily into profit margins and an alternative was needed.

Image from Iran Daily

Carbon intensive energy consumption is gradually being phased out. Environmentalists may argue that it’s not fast enough but regulation and cronyism are further slowing that transition. Alternative energy sources like wind and water do exist and are continuing to grow their market share as technological advances make greater energy production viable.

Substitution is already in process in many countries as a means to reduce our carbon footprint. The next step is to look toward innovation, not just in reducing our footprint, but in cutting existing pollution levels. Enter a multitude of private firms whose futuristic technologies read like a page out of an old science fiction novel.

According to the Guardian, documents show technologies harvesting atmospheric carbon from the air to reuse in everything from soda to new energy sources. Other technologies include a new kind of concrete that sequesters, or captures, carbon which would completely revolutionize one of our most environmentally damaging and polluting industries: construction.

Across many industries, there are constant new innovations and discoveries being rolled out to reduce the negative impact of humanity on the environment. Too many people underestimate innovation, leading to undue faith in political agendas. An entrenched pessimism within the environmental movement has been betting on human failure for well over a century. Ever since 1798, with Malthusianism (the idea that humanity will outstrip its resources and perish), these ideas get continually proven wrong as humanity continues to prosper.

Throughout the 1990s, many environmentalists warned of impending doom because of the hole in the o-zone layer. However, a National Geographic article reported that innovation, shifts in technology, and public pressure to stop producing CFC’s contributed to healing.  There are many environmental problems but, to date, innovations have helped us out of many of the most severe.

Some may argue that innovation is not enough and that what is needed is state regulation and intervention to solve this perceived crisis. So far, however, these policies have been failures. Consider Beijing’s largely ignored driving ban, or the US foisting “Clean Coal” during Obama’s first bid for president,which was built on cronyism and political donations from the coal industry.

Yes, without a doubt, our climate is changing. But the fear behind it is not always warranted. The distinctly human capacity for innovation reduced hunger and poverty and greatly expanded our life expectancies greatly since the Industrial Revolution.  Many industries may have contributed to the problem of atmospheric carbon, but a new industry will be what solves it.


This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page

Mar
23
2016

Environmentalists have been heralding humanity’s destruction for quite some time now…

  • In 1798, Thomas Malthus thought we’d be done in by our own population growth.
  • In the 1970’s, the big worry was “global cooling.”
  • Now, climate change of another kind is the impending catastrophe on everyone’s mind.

Many think that, in order to save ourselves, we must go without the things that make modern life worth living. One great example is the recent “Earth Hour” stunt used to demonize electricity use worldwide.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 1.51.34 PMWhile questions about pollution and conservation do pose unique problems for liberty, they aren’t impossible to tackle. Free Market Environmentalism is an approach that recognizes both the complexity of environmental issues – and the ability of free markets and property rights to address such difficult challenges.

To learn more about this increasingly-popular approach to preservation, join SFL in just under two weeks for a one-day conference all about Free Market Environmentalism! You’ll hear from great speakers, get the chance to participate in free-flowing discussion about these concepts, and think seriously about how to solve the environmental challenges facing Florida (and the world) today.  

Register Now!

Soon after the initial euphoria of landing a man on the moon for the first time in history, NASA’s status as a premier government agency began to quickly decline with the end of the Apollo program in 1972. With the end of the Shuttle program in 2011 and a reliance on Russian and private contractors to conduct space operations, the agency has only continued its decline into apparent irrelevance.

With the moon program more than four decades in the past and a manned Mars mission nowhere in sight with such limited capabilities, NASA has turned towards a much more familiar place: Earth. In a series of Facebook posts over the past few weeks, the agency has put a major focus on studying the effects of man-made climate change through programs like Earth Right Now.

The issue of climate change is typically seen as a dichotomy with liberals advocating for government intervention to resolve the issue and conservatives denying the notion that it is an issue at all. Libertarians would be wise to take a third approach, acknowledging the effects of climate change while advocating for a free market approach to solving the problem.

Almost every reputable scholar studying the issue agrees that rapid changes to the Earth’s climate over a short time frame is caused by human action. However, solving the problem is more contentious. Advocates of government intervention point to the “tragedy of the commons” to say that even when every individual acts rationally and in their own self-interest, this will not be in the best interest of humanity as a whole. The late human ecology professor Garrett Hardin wrote the following in response (full article here):

Even when the shortcomings of the commons are understood, areas remain in which reform is difficult. No one owns the Earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, it is treated as a common dump into which everyone may discharge wastes. Among the unwanted consequences of this behavior are acid rain, the greenhouse effect, and the erosion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Industries and even nations are apt to regard the cleansing of industrial discharges as prohibitively expensive. The oceans are also treated as a common dump. Yet continuing to defend the freedom to pollute will ultimately lead to ruin for all. Nations are just beginning to evolve controls to limit this damage.

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The following is a guest post by Young Voices Advocate PierreGuy Veer.

Today is Earth Day, environmentalists’ annual celebration to raise awareness of supposedly pressing issues like climate change and pollution. Like many events of the green sort, reasonable people should be ready to be subjected to a barrage of denigrating capitalism and praising the state. Since greedy capitalists only care about profits, the state needs to ensure that the environment is clean, right?

Well, not quite. Actually, government action is the surest way to have an environmental Armageddon, and that’s an understatement. Take the former communist world for example, where 100% of the economy was in the hands of the state. In the USSR, massive irrigation completely dried out the Aral Sea. The drainage was so intense that the soil for the agriculture it was supporting became completely sterile and polluted with all the insecticides and fertilizers that were used.

In Mao’s China, the regime’s attempt to industrialize the country called the Great Leap Forward was not only a miserable failure but also accelerated erosion. Small-scale wood-powered furnaces were used to make low-quality steel on a massive scale. The pollution emitted from this disastrous program nearly wiped out the evergreen trees in the Sichuan region.

Despite some free-market reformations in the 1980s, China still has an all-powerful government controlling vast spans of the economy, opening the doors to corruption. Indeed, Professor Yuhua Wang of the University of Pennsylvania discovered that many polluting industries’ business leaders used to be local bureaucrats. As a result, they still have high returns on investment during high-smog days where officials try to limit industrial activity. So, ordinary citizens of major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai should not expect to see a clear sky anytime soon.

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