Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Once again, "What would a libertarian do about global warming?"

Some email correspondents want me to talk about what a libertarian would advocate we do about man-made global warming if man-made global warming were proved to exist. Oddly enough, my correspondents seem unaware I've commented on this many times before, not least last October when I linked to a roundtable discussion on the question led by Ron Bailey at the Reason site. (See my post: What would a libertarian do about global warming?)

The simple answer to my correspondents' question was put in that roundtable by Julian Morris in suggesting that what best enables "adaptation to climate both now and in the future" is the "universal adoption of the institutions of the free society." That is, free and open debate and inquiry, the free and unrestricted operation of resources and of the pricing system and of land use, and the free and open use of technology and science to inquire into and adopt new technologies.

Or in other words, as George Reisman has been saying all along, rather than loud and long calls for government "action" -- "action" that consists only on bans or restrictions on private action -- we should let human ingenuity and the price system of the free market work out solutions to whatever problems do arise, in exactly the same way as human ingenuity and the price system of the free market has done in the past. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek says simply enough that when it comes to what governments should do about global warming we should "shrug."

One legitimate reason for refusing to endorse massive, worldwide government-led efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is that any such effort will inevitably be politicized. Even if the possibility exists for such regulation to make the world a better place, this possibility is remote compared to the likelihood that grandstanding politicians, special-interest groups, arrogant environmentalists who are intolerant of commercial values, and well-meaning but misinformed voters will combine to generate policies that do more harm than good.

More fundamentally, the relevant question – as always – is ‘compared to what?’ The polar ice caps might well be melting, the earth’s temperature might well be rising, and human industry and commerce might well be the culprit. But this ‘culprit’ is also humankind’s great savior. It keeps us from the fates suffered by the vast majority of our ancestors: famine, plague, filth, drudgery, and ignorance. If global warming is a consequence of capitalism, I agree that it’s likely one that should be registered as a cost (although not everyone agrees that global warming is undesirable).

But if the only way to prevent or slow global warming is through political action, it is neither absurd nor irresponsible to argue that the best course of action is to ignore the problem.

Mick Hume makes a similar point at Sp!ked magazine:

To challenge [the warmist consensus] is not a job for scientific inquiry, since that is not really what such prejudices are based upon, but for political argument. The pressing need is to recast notions of human agency, and develop a future-oriented vision based on a belief in our ability to tackle problems through economic and social advance.

For starters, here is one straightforward historical idea that might sound ‘revolutionary’ today: the more control humanity is able to exercise over nature, and the larger the ‘footprint’ we make on the planet, the better the future is likely to be.
For a species -- us -- whose means of survival consists not in adapting ourselves to nature but by adapting nature to ourselves, that's almost a truism, isn't it. Or at least it becomes a truism when you accept that fact about human nature.


  1. drunken watchman25 Jul 2007, 15:07:00


    did you catch that recent 'consensual' claim (out of the UK I think) that any solar contribution (sun spots, cosmic ray interaction, cloud formation etc) to planet earth's recent temperature would have been to cool it? Cant quote you sources. Just looking at your site with limited time on my hands, havent seen any mention of it?

    best regards

  2. Hello drunken watchman, how are the Waikato Beer drinkers out there?

  3. It's a difficult argument to fathom that one, I must say; that removing restrictions on how one exercises ones rights over ones property can be the ultimate cure for putatively proven AGW. To me (and believe me, I'm trying hard to get inside the argument) it comes off as trying to make a predetermined answer to fit the question.

    I mean, if at some point in the near future, it can be proven reasonably robustly that our contributions to the greenhouse gas mix in Darwin's 'great aerial ocean' are in fact severely detrimental to our current way of life, how do you make your 'lift all restrictions' argument?

    As an example, I would finger a low-cost manufacturing plant in, lets say Detroit, who have survived thus far in an increasingly carbon-hostile political environment with a combination of sly payoffs to the city aldermen and fudging their emissions measurements. In a situation whereby even libertarians become satisfied that carbon emissions will directly and direly affect climate, how do you countenance an approach which effectively removes any last restraint on this factory's carbon output? Whatever would drive them to change for the better?

    What is the incentive, under your stated libertarian approach, for those without scruples, with no outlook past their own well-feathered grave, to act in anything other than financial self-interest for the short term of the rest of their lives?

    (A bemused) DenMT

  4. denmt

    Are you suggesting that I owe something i.e. a .00000000002C cooler planet to something/someone that dose not exist?


  5. Hi Warwick - bear in mind that we are discussing a hypothetical situation whereby AGW is proven as human-caused and dire.

    I'm not suggesting that you owe anyone anything, perish the thought! I am merely asking how the vaunted solution (removing any controls on carbon emissions) solves the given problem (carbon emissions provably damaging the climate in a serious way). You end up having to trust human nature, and as anyone who has ever had to deal with a City Council to extract a building consent knows, good intentions over self-serving opportunism can be few and far between with a lot of people.

    It just doesn't wash as common sense to me - I appreciate the argument that PC is making, but I don't personally think it is well tied to reality.


  6. I suspect most of the people asking what a libertarian would do about [human induced] climate change mean "What would a libertarian do prevent or minimise climate change?"

    Answer, judging from this: nothing.

    Not that I don't think adapting will be a chunk of the battle but still...

    I'd have thought there would at least be a case for talking loudly about the possibility of future class action suits against people who have knowingly cause CO2 emissions.

    In its form this is a specific instance of pollution problems in general. I seriously doubt that ingenuitizing around impotable water and unbreathable air is preferable to keeping the damn stuff clean in the first place.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I usually enjoy your comments, HM, but that was unworthy.

  9. I'm sending the wolf directly25 Jul 2007, 18:42:00

    How do we solve crime?

    "universal adoption of the institutions of the free society."

    How do we solve poverty?

    "universal adoption of the institutions of the free society."

    How do we solve a problem like Maria?

    "universal adoption of the institutions of the free society."

    How do I solve this puzzle?

    "universal adoption of the institutions of the free society."

    Hurray for Libertarians. They have all the answer.

  10. If the market cannot handle this 'problem' then who can? I see no other system that can do it.

    Why will the market respond intelligently if left alone to do so? Because it acts from pure self-interest -- the market place determines value. The highest value is self-preservation.

    Government intervention (and artificial markets like carbon trading), needs to be left out of the equation. Govt is the last entity to place trust in for the future of the world. Anyone disagree? I doubt it.

  11. I hadn't intended to post again on this subject, didn't want to wear anyone's patience too thin. but just as a clarification...

    "Government intervention (and artificial markets like carbon trading), needs to be left out of the equation. Govt is the last entity to place trust in for the future of the world. Anyone disagree? I doubt it."

    Emission trading is the next logical step in the evolution of currency. The atmosphere is a commodity which is currently up for grabs to whoever wants it. A role for the government is the protection of property rights, but the atmosphere cannot currently be owned, so how can the market integrate it? I'm fairly centrist in my economic views, but I really thought that the free-for-all on the air we breath would go against the core of libertarianism. Emission trading isn't about interventionism, it's about recognising property rights.

    "For a species -- us -- whose means of survival consists not in adapting ourselves to nature but by adapting nature to ourselves, that's almost a truism, isn't it. Or at least it becomes a truism when you accept that fact about human nature."

    Humans adapt using whichever approach works. Yes, we prefer making nature service us but that isn't always possible, sometimes a compromise must be met.

  12. PC

    I disagree.

    One must illustrate these concepts in the most direct and personal manner, otherwise all that is reproduced is yet more worthless feelings, baseless opinion and assertion (like some of what we see posted below again- more).

    The intention was to demonstrate that it is the nature of the individual not to undertake that behaviour (I am assuming the individual doesn't- could be the individual does- his answer would likely have told) and WHY it is not. Consequently I could have used the emotion and feelings resultant to show how actions and behaviours are actually directed. From there it is but a short step to discuss Nature of Man, moral suasion, the determination of value and opportunity etc. In other words, WHY the individual acts or does not act. How decisions to act are made etc. This would be extended to how other individuals act or do not act. This is an important illustration of the Nature of Man. We would then have contrasted the malevolent versus benevolent view of the topic and commented on which is the accurate view of reality.


    Look, these morons have no real idea of what it is they are promoting or what destruction, violence and enslavement it will actually produce in practice.

    One is reminded of the ignorance of the European youth of the last century who so keenly adopted sickening ideas like Communism, National Socialism and the like. They didn't have a clue what they were supporting. It was a huge dream. Of course once they succeeded in getting what they clamoured for it was too late to go back. That realisation shocked millions. Too late the ignorance was lifted. Then the eggs were broken.

    Today we have useful idiots promoting a version of the same. This time they say it is the environment that is the justification. Previously it has been race, nation, worker, history, social class, the grandchildren etc. This generation of idiots and morons is mostly talk so far. They have not a clue where they are going and what their cherished beliefs will harvest, not yet anyhow. They have blind faith. But they support the lust for the power to collectivise. As you are well aware, that power is very seductive to the immoral opportunist who seeks to weild it.

    I have no objection to climate porn addicts ruining each other with their perversions. The trouble is they seek take everyone with them, as they see to it that the enslavements are imposed upon all. Everyone must accompany them into the abyss.

    Given the destructive criminal nature of what today's cohort of idiots support and, worse, promote for imposition upon all other people, they are fair game for a few tough, confrontational posts and the challenge of being called to personal account. Perhaps a few of the more intelligent may well be shaken away from their smug complacency and perhaps take the first few steps away from their indecent porn.


  13. I would like to say that carbon trading was about protecting property rights David. However it is only protecting environmentally unfriendly companies and fuelling corporate corruption. 'Carbon unfriendly' coys are doing exceptionally well on world bourses -- something is not right here. When the carbon trading rort comes to light there's going to be hell to pay.

    I do think there is moderate global warming, and that human activity is distorting the trend. You don't solve the problem by opening trading rooms though.

  14. Carbon trading regimes are the same as the fiat money scam. A central authority is erected to issue tradable "currency" out of thin air (no kidding!). Everyone is then subject to the "currency" and the regulations and rules of the central authority. Insiders win, all others are extorted! It's the usual scam dressed up in a little enviromental rhetoric. It's another fraud.

    It will necessarily lead to great harm and much impoverishment.

    Consider the present central bank fiat money schemes and how they exploit the vulnerable and create poverty. This new scheme will be worse still. Imagine giving away yet more control over your life and your assets and property to those whose actions will be to consume it, producing nothing.

    "Evolution of the currency"? More like the same old, same old fraud.


  15. To Anonymous: I think the pursuit of alternative technology will be of the utmost importance in the hypothetical scenario under discussion, and very much doubt that any nation, when faced with a nasty threat like serious climate change, would increase regulation on those seeking to develop alternative energy generation methods.

    I merely fail to see how removing current restrictions encourages free market players to move towards alternatives. If anything, it frees up the playing field for unscrupulous, carbon-emitting cut-price market entrants to undercut diligent, well-resourced companies who pour their money into R+D for super-algae power and things.

    I think PC has made the case on a more abstract, perfect-world level, but that it doesn't gel too well with expected and obvious outcomes (in my own opinion, obviously). Again, it feels like starting from deregulation as a solution and working backwards...


  16. denmt

    More opinion? Come on man, grow up and supply something with substance for a change.

    Had you considered that you can't wish technology into existance? No. Oh dear. Witness those witless fools in California who tried to make electric cars a compulsory percentage of the market. The law was such that by now Californians would be driving all electric. Guess what. Didn't happen. The battery technology wasn't available and even after billions of dollars of wasted effort NOTHING HAPPENNED. The technology could not be wished into existance by regulation.

    Your problem relates to the challenge of the Polynesian proofs. Remember those? What you are doing is assuming certain premise without foundation or proof. Then you proceed to demand compliance of all to your ideas from that point.

    It's invalid and foolish.

    Do better.


  17. Hitman... In case you hadn't realised, this newfangled blogging phenomenon is like a giant marketplace of ideas, where people from across a broad spectrum of political views and ideologies come together to share opinion and debate.

    If the expression of 'mere' and 'baseless' opinion gets you down, I suggest the internet is the wrong forum for you! Otherwise, relax and enjoy a good debate! The constant moaning about people expressing their opinions is getting a mite tired...

    To address your points (with a bit more opinion, naturally) I acknowledge that technology can't simply be wished into existence. This is in fact a fundamental issue with the 'deregulation' approach - we simply 'unshackle' industry and fold our hands, waiting for a solution to eventuate which you appear to think was hitherto impossible in a government-regulated environment. This to me involves a deal more wishful thinking than government incentivising technology research and providing funding to pure-research university type institutions.

    Unfortunately I don't really want to get mired into your outrageously rigorous standard of 'proof' for anthropogenic global warming as previously articulated, as a lot of the scientific claims and counter-claims for the whole general area have been hashed out to death here and elsewhere - however I will certainly agree to disagree on the level of 'proof' it takes to justify some sort of action. I assume you're the kind of guy who doesn't pay for insurance! ;)


  18. As usual if anybody dares challenge the libertarian 'remove all controls' dogma, it descends into insults. If one needs proof of the effect that having no control over industry has, one only has to turn to the array of quality products coming out of China. Libertarians deal in paper thin and intellectually lazy abstractions of the real world which will simply not work, such is their utter and complete misjudgment of human nature. They like to think they are beyond left & right, but in reality they sit firmly in the extreme right and as such just become another bunch of extremists who think they are always right and everybody else is wrong. They like to style themselves 'open minded' & 'logical', but reality all evidence is filtered to reinforce their own belief systems.

    All of this makes trying to argue a contradicting viewpoint about as enlightening as taking a shit.

    Sorry, that had all been building up for a while.

  19. Incidentally, I don't think you own air by any tradition definition (perhaps unless you happen to be breathing it at the time). It's effectively common property.

    That means its prey to the kind of multi-player prisoners dilemma usually associated with the commons disaster. In the absence of an outside agency it ends up polluted no matter what any or all involved might prefer.

    (This is not to say that capitalism does not do well in this respect - just that it sometimes needs a push)

    Also, in this case, if the actual presence of immediately identifiable disaster is what it would take for the market to react, that would probably be a little late.

  20. Lyndon, we've talked before about commons disasters and the way to avoid them: the way to avoid them is by effective property rights.

    You don't need to privatise air to give effect to the common law protection of property rights (and nor could you).

    What is actually protected in the common law system is the effect on actual property of a cause of damage. In this case, you say the cause that is and will be destructive of your property is anthropogenic global warming.

    Fine. Take the case.

    Take the case of New Orleans for example. Let's say that you own property in New Orleans that's been damaged by Katrina, and let's say you want to side with Al Bore and say that Katrina was caused by anthropogenic global warming. Or let's say you agree with the latest National Geographic, who in their latest issue show southern Louisiana under three feet of water in 2050, following a rise in sea levels caused by anthropogenic global warming.

    In a system in which common law protection of property rights were given effect, you and your fellow owners have the right to take an action (probably a class action) against those you say perpetrated the anthropogenic global warming that caused Katrina, and that you say WILL cause those increased sea levels. That is, all those spewers of CO2 that you say are incontrovertibly responsible can be taken to court as part of a class action, or just a representative spewer can be chosen.

    Clear enough. The "institutions of the free society" that I'm talking about here give you a platform to prove the cause, to prove the damage, and to gain a remedy from the pollutant.

    And rest easy, because if you prove an objective threat exists in advance of any damages actually occurring, then you can gain your remedy now (or seek to avoid the damage occurring) without actually waiting until 2050 and you and your neighbours are permanently underwater.

    But here's the rub.

    First of all, if you know in advance the likelihood of that neighbourhood ending up underwater, then you yourself must bear some responsibility for choosing to live there, or in choosing to remain there when or if you had the opportunity to move.

    Second, you're required to prove to an objective legal standard of proof (remember this is the courts we're talking about here, not the UN and the world's more easily duped journalists) that anthropogenic global warming is a fact; that CO2 emissions are the direct cause of your immediate distress; that the sea levels will rise; and the cause of that rise is those CO2 emissions.

    The burden of proof is on YOU to prove each and every one of those claims to the normal civil standard of proof. But that's not too difficult, is it?

    After all, if they can't be proved, then taken objectively you'd have to say that the whole argument over anthropogenic global warming is just a lot of hot air, wouldn't you?

    Frankly, I'd like to see you or anyone do what I've described. It would clear things up immensely.

    In fact, I wonder why someone hasn't already tried.

    Care to speculate why they haven't?

  21. Thanks for the trouble.

    And here was me just popping back to leave a semi-flippant addendum.

    PC, you do describe the approximate scenario I had imagined in my earlier comment.

    I believe Greenpeace has recently sent letters to various people by way of ensuring that, should they be sued in the future, they won't be able to say they didn't know.

    I don't really feel up to speculating. But I can smell more reasons out there than then one you invite.

    Would it have worked with the ozone layer?

  22. And speaking of speculating - why won't sceptics/denialists bet against AGW on the predictions market?

    Assuming people can be relied upon to only do what is in their own interest, it follows then that those who are rabidly opposed to AGW and have an ideological knife to hone do not expect to make a profit from such a wager. And there are some big inducements of profit out there waiting for willing takers.

  23. Anonymous

    You have strayed into my territory!

    The answer to your question, it’s because there are far more convenient and profitable bets on offer with shorter transaction schedules. I don’t intend to wait for decades to collect!

    I am happy to bet. I do it for a living. The quanta of one transaction would be more than you'll see in your entire lifetime.

    I do not believe in the global warming climate disaster scenario. It is a rather unimpressive fraud.

    What I do believe in are the results of the actions of agencies that it suits to employ the global warming story to scare the herd and justify their policies. I believe that the effects of their regulation are real, even if the justifications are not.

    Some of what I do is this. Among other tasks, I consider what is going on in the economy and with legislation. As each of the new environmental and related regulations or imposts is posited, I analyse its downstream effect and I bet. As each regulation or impost is introduced and takes effect, I locate and confirm the effects. Again, I bet. The losers and victims are people such as you. I bet on your misfortune. I short your future. Believe me, even though I do not approve of what is going on, I know a safe profitable bet when I see one! The trick is to get in there first, at the same time keeping my client base (not all of whom are Libertarian!) assuaged, confident that the risk is managed acceptable.

    Now take heed carefully. I am not causing your increased costs of living, nor am I the reason that capital assets become more and more difficult for you to ever attain. I am not the cause of energy costs increasing or goods and services becoming tougher to afford for you. Those problems are caused by the policies you support the government introducing and enforcing. All I do is anticipate what your politics will cause you to experience and place bet. I short your future. You pay. I play.

    There is little risk for me, other than the possibility that, given the chance, once you realise your predicament you'd try to drown me with you. You'll all call for more collectivism as an antidote to the pain you'd be experiencing from the dose you'd already sought for yourself. I'm ready for this. That risk is well understood and hedged!

    So, as a person who does not believe in the climate disaster excuse, I'm betting all right. I'm betting on the consequences of the direction that politics is taking. I may not agree with that direction (Libertarianz are likely to be unpleased about it as well) but if I'm correct I'll make a substantial profit for the portfolio and for myself. You won't do so well. But by then I’ll be off, away, free! It’s a pragmatic outlook I suppose but life is too short to spend fighting you guys.

    The tragedy is that many decent hardworking people are going to be taken down and impoverished. Wealth will be consumed for no return. You I don't care about, them I sympathise with.

    So there’s your answer. You can take it to the bank.


  24. denmt

    Blogging. Newfangled? Been around for over a decade in case you hadn't noticed. Nothing new. Of course, you're expecting people to accept your opinion again and again your opinion is wrong.

    One of the features of a free market is that you don't have to buy anything if you do not want to. Those who offer inferior goods or services, or who attempt to offer that which the market does not want, soon go out of business. The resources they formerly controlled are reallocated to other participants.

    In a free market your ideas would soon be revealed as baseless and without merit. They would be discarded. Tested and abandoned. That's proper and as it should be and that's what's been occurring here.

    Just because an idea is presented to a public forum such as the web, that does not make it true and correct. Not all ideas are good ones and not all of them have substance and are true. My purpose has been to reveal to you that yours are bad ideas. That's what you should expect to occur in the market. In this case you have been challenged, tested & failed.

    The underlying problem with you is that you are promoting a scenario where all participants are shackled to your cherished ideas and goals. What you are demanding is that all must buy into what you want or else. That is not a free market. That's an enslavement.

    Moving back to the wishing reality to conform to government mandate topic. I offered an example to you for consideration previously. It was government wishful thinking that resulted in the theft of money to wish new technology into being. Some of the expropriated money the government took was consumed by

    "government incentivising technology research and providing funding to pure-research university type institutions",

    none of which were able to create the technology sought to achieve a viable all-electric car. Billions of dollars were consumed following the system you are promoting. It failed. What a waste.

    This example is a warning to YOU that when you start talking about wishful thinking you should start by considering your own first.

    A most important point is this one. Read and learn.

    If you are going to demand that every person's life is enslaved to a centralist government imposed system of extortion and expropriationand rationing, then your justification, your reasoning for so doing needs to be exhaustively proven beyond doubt. Remember, it is you who are supporting the notion of controlling every man's activites. You mere feelings and baseless opinions don't make the grade.


  25. Hitman: I've got a big day at the coalface ahead of me so this will be brief, unfortunately.

    It doesn't seem like you've engaged any of the substance of my previous comments. Continually reasserting the magical power of the free market to solve any downstream issue is not particularly sophisticated, as wound up as you might get in your own superiority ('read and learn' etc).

    My willingness to respond to your cheapshots rapidly diminishes with all the scoffing and high-horsed-ness. It does you no favours.

    You'll note that the entire thread revolves around a hypothetical question of what PC feels a libertarian would do to mitigate the problem, and thats what I've been discussing and inquiring into - not my own feelings on how such a problem would be best dealt to. It's all opinion, buddy!


  26. denmt

    There's not much to your opinion is there. You can wriggle all you like but you've been exposed. Not much substance to you at all.

    I ask you no favours other than to leave other people alone to live as they see fit, not as you want them to live.

    And, I am not your buddy.


  27. Hitman,

    Just a point. You wrote:

    "If you are going to demand that every person's life is enslaved to a centralist government imposed system of extortion and expropriationand rationing, then your justification, your reasoning for so doing needs to be exhaustively proven beyond doubt."

    Certainty is a psychological state and makes a bad friend in the search for truth. What you should do is look for criticisms and reject propositions that have been successfully criticized. The justificationist way of looking for certainty beyond all reasonable doubt leads to authoritarian thinking and given the context of this debate that is the last thing you want!

    The whole reason that global warming should be left to the free market is that free markets are far better at generating and criticising ideas than governments. Government thinking tends to be justificationist whereas markets are criticalist.

  28. Wikipedia: PC's wish comes true. The supreme court ruling was more of a technicality than an acceptance of C02 causing global warming, but if the other suits proceed then (in about 20 years based on other major environment cases) we might have a verdict.

    Mind you, if it comes to that, why have none of the polluters sued these people who say they're destroying the planet?

    Oh, and note the next entry down, about betting.

  29. Brian S.

    Authoritarianism! Surely not!

    Interesting post. I'll think on it some.

    My point was that if a person is going to demand all others are coercively colectivised and controlled, then he better have a valid justification. I'd demand proof he's got it right. Given what he's asking there had better not be doubt about it!

    Of course, your approach demonstrates that a few sound critiques are sufficient to blow his position right out of the water anyway.

    In this debate what is seen over and over again is that the climate pornographers push the idea that man has destroyed the climate or is in the process of destroying it. They claim that is necessarily bad.

    They also spout off on a different and unrelated issue, positing that all men must be collectivised for their own good. Somehow that is claimed to also be good for the climate.

    It's empty assertion and thoughtless puff. I can well understand why the Polynesian teacher wanted to see some proofs. He spotted the lack of cohesion and absence of logic.

    Best policy to leave other people to live their own lives. You don't need to control them and shouldn't try to. Less vexatious by far if you don't.


  30. New View of Global Warming: Hoax or Herding?
    "Bob Prechter discussed how social herding seems to be leading to social hysteria over global warming in his June Elliott Wave Theorist. That article brought cries of outrage from some readers. As he puts it in his July Theorist: "Because my interest lay in the herding phenomenon, I gave short shrift to the scientific case for man-made global warming...." Bob goes on to revisit his discussion to clear up any misconceptions. If you care about global warming – one way or the other – you will be interested to read his explanation of why mass fears often prove to be unfounded."*aid=3225*time=am


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