Monday, 8 September 2008

National environmental nonsense

A POPULAR PIECE OF schoolboy doggerel when I was a youngster went as follows: "If you notice this notice, you will notice there is no notice to notice."

That was pretty much everyone's reaction when Trevor Mallard revealed National's Environment Policy had turned up on his cafe table between the baked beans and the toast last week, and then again when the Policy itself was confirmed over the weekend by National's senior liability, Nick Smith.

Fact is, there's pretty much nothing noticeable to notice. The environmental ‘vision’ outlined within is nothing of the sort. It essentially amounts to the same old state interference via continued disrespect, if not complete ignorance, of private property rights -- in other words, the same old "me too" environmentalism Smith has been peddling now for a decade-and-a-half.

  • Neither abolition nor change nor even mention of National's Resource Management Act.
  • No commitment to reinstating the protection of New Zealanders' property rights that the Resource Management expunged.
  • No recognition that it is property rights and common law that provide the most secure environmental protection possible, and did so for most of seven-hundred years.
  • A new Environmental Protection Agency to continue the job of doing over New Zealanders' property rights that the Resource Management began.
  • The already announced promise to strangle the economy by 50% to half-meet the Kyoto Protocol targets National signed up to on Smith's previous watch.
  • National's own Emissions Tax Scam.

Nothing new at all then, just the same authoritarian approach to "the environment" from the dripping wet Nick Smith now as he exhibited when he was a minister administering the Resource Management Act back in the nineties -- the same wet green wet dream as every other politician -- unless of course you count yet another bureaucracy that National would like to join the horde huddled around Wellington's downtown in search of ever more expensive office space: an "Environmental Protection Agency" that will no doubt emulate the expensive disaster that its American progenitor is widely recognised as being, while hoovering up over-earnest young graduates from the inexorably increasing number of environmental psuedo-science courses that are slowly taking over the educational sector, for an agency that will be inexorably doing the same to the economy.

doctors_nurses250 Quite how another bureaucracy to add to Wellington's already replete list is going to lead to fewer bureaucrats rather than more (and a note to National's billboard incompetents: if you're going to lie for your living, then at least try to be grammatically correct), only either a politician or a liar would know. But I fear, dear reader, you've already spotted the repetition there. And quite how another agency with all-encompassing powers second-guessing every single productive person in the country is going to help either prosperity or freedom, only a politician would try to explain.

And they do try. Prosperity? Growth? "Environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand," said Key's speech writers. "We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other," he read. "Let me be clear that I don't think environmental and economic objectives need always be traded off one against the other," he clarified. "Increasingly, New Zealand's environmental credentials will underpin our prosperity," he insisted. One wonders who he was trying to convince since, as this blog has made a fetish of arguing since its birth, when environmentalism by diktat is the chosen route, freedom and prosperity are the first things to disappear.

Freedom? Prosperity? Environmental values? If those three together are to mean anything, then firm clear property rights under a regime of common law were and are and always have been the only possible way to harmonise the three, and in face the only way they ever have been. Private property rights in a common law system provide the strongest possible protection for the environment and for property owners -- clear property reflect back to owners the consequences of their own actions; common law gives standing to those whose ownership rights are violated by environmental degradation.

If you really wish to improve the environment, with the additional bonus of achieving massive economic growth within a relatively short space of time, just have the guts to abolish the Resource Management Act outright. Don’t tinker; just trash it. That appalling piece of fascism allows others to control the use of one’s property. Further, it is the single biggest impediment to progress within New Zealand. When somebody owns something, they look after it to maintain its value. When the law upholds them in that protection, we all get to kick an environmental goal. In other words, if you wish to maintain the quality of the environment while giving wings to prosperity, which surely even Nick Smith must agree is urgently necessary, you can start by implementing full private property rights -- instead of promising to do them over further.

DESPITE KEY"S LIMP ATTEMPTS to link environment and economics simply by raw insistence, the link between the two fields is clear enough.

After all, economics has been defined as the science that studies infinite wants in a world of scarce resources. That must surely have something to say about things? And effective property rights under a system of common law is demonstrably the most effective method yet devised of 'internalising externalities' -- of reflecting back to owners the real environmental consequences of their activities. (See for example: "The Invisible Hand of the Market Doesn't Deliver a Sustainable Nation": True or False?)

Between them, strong property rights and real price signals are far more efficient at telling us all the real consequences of our own activities and of our own choices-- and they offer the added benefit that they're not just real rather than made-up; they're not just efficient; they're not just moral, but they're good for freedom as well.

That's not something one can say for any the silly statist schemes Smith takes to be 'green.' The biggest long-term cost of all of them is not just for the environment, it's in their cost to the human environment -- the cost to us all of shackling industry and productivity; of the time wasted in fruitless feel-good stupidity; of the larger state needed to administer all these programmes (with the various threats that implies) and in the loss of freedom to live our own lives in our own way.

As Fred L. Smith says, "The threat posed by humans to the natural environment is nothing compared to the threat to humans posed by global environmental policy."

As I've said before, when they come for you they'll be carrying a clipboard, not a gun -- and the person carrying it will probably be called Jeremy.

If you've got this far, you probably want to know more. Since The Free Radical devoted part of an issue to Nick Smith's authoritarian greenwash two years ago, readers may download a PDF copy of that issue here, or by clicking on the cover above. And for more on the inimitable connection between environmental values and property rights, feel free to investigate some of NOT PC's writing on the subject:

And here's a more sane, sober and serious set of environmental policies that could be adopted by any party committed to rolling back statism, instead of advancing it:


  1. Interesting post. I too have some issues with National's environmental policy, but compared to Labour I think it is a baby-step in the right direction (except for bits like the ETS for example). It is far from perfect but we could live with it slightly easier than with Labour and the Green's policies. Having read your post however I am less enthusiastic about it than I was.

    At least they remove the requirement for a building consent to put in solar hot water, which is good.

    So I wouldn't vote for them and would want something far better. But I would still prefer this to whatever a Labour/Green government would do.

  2. Was just wondering, what would a Libertarian response to climate change be, if it were happening? Say the costs of doing nothing were higher than the costs of stopping it and most of our trading partners were doing the same. You can extrapolate all sorts of other considerations out of that, but i'm curious to say the least, seeing as today CC always seems to require some sort of collective-legislative action...

  3. Stephen

    Firstly, the climate is not static. It is changing as it has done for millions of years. Always has, always does.

    What you are really interested in is what the correct approach to deal with damage caused to one's property by the actions of another (or several others) actually is. The answer is, should it be proven that the actions of another party or parties be damaging your property, then you have right to demand they cease and desist from their damaging activity. Further, they must make restitution to you for the damages you have experienced as the direct result of their actions. If they fail to so do, then it is the government's role to intervene.

    This cuts both ways. Should your actions be proven to be damaging to the owners of other property, then you must cease and desist from what you are doing (that which harms them) and make restitution.

    Libertarians generaly consider it the government's role to protect the rights of each and all individuals. They argue that the government is granted a monopoly over the use of non-emergency retributive force for that reason. Libertarians recognise three individual rights, one being the property right. Therefore they would accept that it is the government's role to ensure that, should it be proven that one party's actions have damaged another party's property, the damaging activity cease and the second party be made whole. Note, the government would only act in a case where the aggrieved party was unable to secure his property rights from the actions of an offending party.

    The trouble with the climate change debate, as presently framed, is that it is based on the premise that the government should and must negate people's individual rights (all thre of them, not just the property right) in favour of compulsory coercive collectivism. Climate change is the half-arsed justification offerred for this.


  4. Stephen: Great question. I did a post a while ago about the goverment could get out of the way of technological progress and accelerate changes that might help reduce carbon emissions, not by passing laws, but by removing laws.

    Take a look.

  5. Thanks for a detailed answer LGM. I think that answer is close to what I expected. However, it would seem you are thinking very locally i.e. at the level of each individual, unsurprisingly. It actually sounds like the ultimate in NIMBY-ism - 'the coal smoke is irritating my lungs, so cease and desist or pay me compensation'? Perhaps even anti-business, as who would want to operate in a country tilted so heavily in favour of people over business? I suspect i'm missing something, but I suspect it would be a very different country.

    Back to CC - There exists the common assertion that unless action is taken in the form of government coercion, future generations will be made to suffer from CC's negative effects (we are assuming CC is heavily a negative) e.g. less rain/shrinking glaciers = less water available for established cities = water shortages. Therefore, while it might infringe on peoples' liberty now, government enforced action (and ETS, carbon tax, whatever) is for the good of all thousands/millions in the future who will suffer unless GHG production is actively dis-incentivised(?). Some people will 'selfishly' prefer to live in the 'now' - in a libertarian society they would still be free to pollute, despite the wishes of those who 'think about the children' - is this a compatible part of simply enforcing property rights? I think the phrase is 'inter-generational rights'.

    ACT used to have something along the lines of 'polluter pays, respect property rights' in their manifestos of days gone by, wish i'd heard them talk about it...

  6. Luke,

    Thanks, I read your post (had a good laugh when you said 'some' libertarian circles are sceptical :-D ). Might as well keep it on this blog if you don't mind:

    You assertion that removing barriers to taking up new technologies is, I think the same as what Ron Paul was saying when asked about Climate Change. The thing is, the path of emissions could then go in any direction - a developed country starts using advanced technology that makes it extremely economical to mine the Alberta tar sands, or makes it very easy to drill deeper than before, leading to cleaner technologies like nukes, solar, hydro, wind etc being blown out of the water in the competitiveness stakes. Without a government enforced dis-incentive to emit, it would seem like your approach is something of a gamble?

  7. As an aside, I think Paul's approach of removing all subsidies to the coal industry and whatnot would be an essential step in making Obama/McCain's cap/trade system work more smoothly, but I think it's going to be a mess.

  8. Bugger, forgot to add:

    If someone on the other side of the world (say, through their coal plant/s or even a state-owned power company) is damaging my property - which assuredly would be the case if AGW were real - is it possible to to anything about that? Seems like it could be messy.

  9. Stephen

    Crikey dick! Why ask if you thought you had all the answers already?


    You wrote: "There exists the common assertion that unless action is taken in the form of government coercion, future generations will be made to suffer from CC's negative effects (we are assuming CC is heavily a negative) etc..."

    Two key words here for careful consideration. They are "assertion" and "assuming". Note: an assertion or an assumption, no matter how "common", is not proof. Neither one is even at the level of real evidence, yet here you are, basing your entire position upon some arbitrary assertion and unexamined assumption. It aint a good approach.

    The trouble with your premise and argument is that it has been expressed and employed already, on many occasions, and with shocking results. The guts is that individuals must be enslaved for a common good or a greater good (more important than a person's freedom and rights). Of course, this important good is to be realised in some alleged future space or time. It is to be realised at a distance - far enough away to be imprecise and hard to measure or evaluate (which is the general idea). The argument runs that individual people must have suffer their liberty being destroyed but this "modest" penalty is justified by the greater cause, the greater good (a type of god). The cause varies but the pitch is always for the same purpose- compulsory coercive collectivisation. What a con!

    Here are a few examples of previous justifications for governments taking control over people and negating their liberty and destroying individual rights.
    - for the race
    - for the nation
    - for order
    - for God
    - for the children
    - for the future
    - for your immortal soul
    - for our religion
    - for the protection of the country
    - for the language
    - for the worker
    - for the great leader
    - for society
    - for welfare
    - for honour
    - for glory
    - for the land
    - for future generations
    - for history
    - for the species

    There are plenty. And lately the weather is offerred as the excuse. Yup, people must be sacrificed to the great cause of better weather. Shit-oh-dear!

    Anyway, take a look at the historical precedent of what happens when governments enforce their arbitrary wishes upon individuals. The justifications boil down to being hollow fibs applied to justify some serious knavery.

    Turning now to this,

    "Therefore, while it might infringe on peoples' liberty now, government enforced action (and ETS, carbon tax, whatever) is for the good of all thousands/millions in the future who will suffer unless GHG production is actively dis-incentivised(?)."

    Indeed, an excellent example of the method. See it now?


    There are no "intergenerational rights". There are only Individual Rights. These are a negative obligation that only apply to living reasoning human beings. What you have been attempting to do is collectivise and sacrifice people, alive and existant presently, to a non-existant potential. Always remember, a potential is not an actual. A non-existant has no rights!

    Moving on. You have no right to force your views and values upon anyone else. Citing a future potential entity or group thereof does nothing to validate any argument to the contrary.


    You asked whether it would be possible to do anything about someone on the other side of the world damaging your property through their action. The Libertarian answer is yes, with the proviso you proved your case.


  10. Gah! I didn't actually think I had all the answers. This was more my rather clumsy attempt at eliciting a libertarian response to a series of hypothetical assumptions and assertions - I did not assert any of those to be the case, I think I at least implied that like it or not, they are the dominant approach(es) today.

    I'll pause to get a grip, then see if I can respond.



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