Steve G.

Drowning in dogma

In Environment, Health on January 2, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Being a libertarian environmentalist can be frustrating. Take the most obvious issue, global warming. Many of my favorite Libertarian personalities (like Ian Bernard of Free Talk Live) insist that global warming is either a myth, not anthropogenic, or not a problem. Many environmentalists scream about the need for more government intervention. In reality, they’re both being dogmatic. I believe that the market is the best solution to environmental problems, not government or ignorance.

It’s the statist environmentalists that are pissing me off now. A Sioux Falls, SD company has genetically engineered cattle that almost certainly cannot be infected with BSE, otherwise known as mad cow disease. Average beef-eaters would say “Awesome, now I can eat beef without worrying about slowly dying from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.”

But it’s easy to imagine what would happen if this company tried to bring the cows to market. People wearing funny costumes would protest, the FDA would be required to go through a multi-year process to ensure the safety of something that almost certainly carries zero risk. I have a better solution than regulation: let those of us who feel the risk of vCJD is worse than the risk of something going wrong with the cows eat them, and let those other people eat “natural” cows.

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  1. Some are claiming that other ‘planets’ are experiencing similar phenomena. If this is the case, it might be the Sun causing the warmup, not our emissions. Thus, the term ‘planetary warming’ might be the vogue reference of the future. This would put a serious clamp on the ambitions of those seeking to tighten regulation across the board. It also leaves open the possibility that adapting to the change regardless of the cause would be better left to technological and market innovation, rather than the blundering lawmakers who couldn’t make a career out of science.

  2. I’m a global warming skeptic too. I used to believe in global warming but a non-libertarian friend of mine persuaded me otherwise with a mountain of evidence.

    Yes, global warming is happening. No, it is not our fault. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, how could it possibly be rising to the highest reaches of our atmosphere and staying there? It’s a health hazard because it blankets cities and soots up environments, yes. And we ought to deal with that health hazard.

    But global warming? Nah. Feel free to do your part to stop it if you think it’s a problem though. It’s not like less carbon dioxide is gonna hurt anything.

  3. The atmosphere is mixed by turbulence, and therefore its chemical composition is (relatively) independent of altitude. The only number that matters is the column height (the amount of CO_2 per square meter) in the air, so persuading CO_2 to stay at lower altitudes, which cannot be done, would have no effect on the extensive anthropogenic CO_2 induced global warming that we are seeing.

    CO_2 does not contain free carbon, and does not contribute to sooty particulates, which are a separate issue.

    The overwhelming scientific concensus is in favor of global warming.

  4. “Yes, global warming is happening. No, it is not our fault. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, how could it possibly be rising to the highest reaches of our atmosphere and staying there? It’s a health hazard because it blankets cities and soots up environments, yes. And we ought to deal with that health hazard.”

    Diffusion. By that logic, we wouldn’t have an ozone layer above most of the atmosphere, as ozone (O3) is heavier than oxygen and nitrogen, the main components of the atmosphere.

    Besides, what’s going on is to some extent irrelevant. The markets can handle anything better than governments can.

  5. My take on global warming is reflected by Roderick Long here

    http://praxeology.net/unblog07-06.htm#06

    I talked about people who take the sides they do primarily on the basis of scientific evidence, and about people who take the sides they do primarily on the basis of political calculation. But I don’t think either of those groups is the majority. Most people with positions on global warming don’t have sufficient scientific expertise to belong to the first group, and aren’t dishonest enough to belong to the second group.

    I suspect most people take whatever position they take on global warming because people are generally more likely to read, and/or to believe, whichever scientific case best fits in with their worldview. If you’re conventionally left-wing, then you’re probably accustomed to thinking of business interests as selfish and irresponsible forces that need to be reined in by public-spirited civil servants, and so you’re going to view claims that seem to support the business community with heightened suspicion. If, on the other hand, you’re conventionally right-wing, then you’re probably accustomed to thinking of business interests as decent hard-working folks who are constantly being demonized and micromanaged by rapacious regulators, and so you’re going to view claims that seem to support government regulation with heightened suspicion.

    Even if these respective value-judgments were correct, one should be cautious about allowing them to influence one’s view of the evidence. But I don’t think they’re even correct; one should avoid putting too much faith in either the bosses or the bureaucrats.

    And here

    http://praxeology.net/unblog07-06.htm#07

    # I suspect I’m one of the few political bloggers who has no opinion about global warming. My problem is that I know too many intelligent and sincere people, with way more scientific expertise than mine, on both sides of the issue. Many on the left seem to assume that anyone who’s skeptical about the cause and/or extent of global warming must be in the pay of the corporations; and many on the right seem to assume that anyone who thinks global warming is serious and manmade is just a shill for big government. I know from personal experience that both of those assumptions are just plain false.

    But I suspect the stereotypes – both stereotypes – are largely true of all too many of the politicians and lobbyists involved in the debate. As I’ve written elsewhere:

    We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course it’s in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance – but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so it’s no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.

    Now the main difference, insofar as there is one, between the Establishment Left and the Establishment Right in this country is that while both are the running-dog lackeys of the neofascist government-business alliance, the Establishment Left somewhat favours a shift in power toward government, while the Establishment Right somewhat favours a shift in power toward business. Playing up the threat of global warming thus serves the interests of the statocratic faction, while playing down that threat serves the interests of the plutocratic faction – and so you’d expect to see the two sides taking the sides they’re taking, regardless of what the truth actually is. But it’s just a squabble within the ruling class.

    In fact, of course, if global warming does turn out to be serious and manmade, that shouldn’t lead us to grant more power to the state; the more serious the problem, the more disastrous any centralised, bureaucratic solution is likely to be. And if on the other hand global warming turns out to have been overhyped, that shouldn’t lead us into complacency about the plutocracy either. Both halves of the ruling-class machine need to be dismantled, whatever the weather may bring.

    (end quote from Roderick Long)

  6. Nigel

    Being a libertarian environmentalist can be frustrating. Take the most obvious issue, global warming. Many of my favorite Libertarian personalities (like Ian Bernard of Free Talk Live) insist that global warming is either a myth, not anthropogenic, or not a problem.

    I’m a free market environmentalist too, but I don’t think the evidence on global warming is nearly as conclusive as you think.

    It may indeed be a myth, non-anthropogenic, or not a problem; then again, it might. It’s a complicated issue, and it’s been ten years since I was current on all the lastest scientific literature in the field (i.e. actually reading the journal articles and books from
    various sides of the debate), but I’ve kept up with the layman news on the issue and I don’t think anything is nearly as conclusive as some people would like to believe.

    But, if we take the global warming theory to be factual, Steve Kubby has some solutions:

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=107509135&blogID=207756301

    So, if global warming does turn out to be correct, there are in fact some libertarian political approaches to take on this issue.

  7. Tom Knapp discussed the environmental stances of Kubby, Phillies, and some other libertarians here:

    http://knappster.blogspot.com/2006/12/libertarians-warm-up-to-environmental.html

  8. As for genetically engineered cows, what makes you think this “almost certainly carries zero risk”?

    I’m not in favor of FDA regulation either. I think it’s horribly bureaucratic and inefficient and does far more harm than good.

    If we end limited liability for corporations, the market in insurance can determine how much of a risk it really is.

    If the corporate boards and/or shareholders are personally responsible in case this turns out to be a huge environmental or health problem, they’ll have some incentive to weigh the risks against the potential benefits.

    The market should determine how much of a risk it is, not some diktat in a market distorted by the state’s protection of corporations from the responsibility for their actions.

  9. George Phillies doesn’t claim to have solutions to global warming, but he knows the market does.

  10. The overwhelming scientific concensus is in favor of global warming.

    More so among those outside the immediate field.

  11. I’m not dogmatic on the global warming skepticism, but it’s what I generally have been led to believe. Anyway, just because I’m a skeptic on that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the environment; in fact I’m pretty heavily in favor of protecting it… even using mildly statist means to do so if necessary.

    But I want to make sure that the environment is really threatened when I call for the increase of state power. For things like acid rain, where industry is very clearly causing problems? Yeah, we need caps on that. We need to control runoff, erosion and water pollution. We need to make sure old-growth forest is protected.

    We oughtn’t turn FIRST to the state to protect these things, of course; we need to turn to the market and see if it’s working. Only in the rare case of market failure must the state step in to protect our common birthright.

  12. Upon closer examination cases of “market failure” tend to be cases of government propping up bad business.

    Limited liability is a big part of this problem. Companies’ owners and managers are not responsible personally for the damage they cause.

    If that were done away with, along with the fiction of corporate personhood, all of a sudden all kinds of polluting activities become less profitable, more costly and more risky.

    What the government gives with one hand it takes away with the other.

    All these regulations mainly serve to stifle small business.

    Some of the businesses being killed off or prevented from forming might have been providing innovative solutions to environmental problems.

    Big business can write custom loopholes into the law through lobbying; it can have its own compliance bureaucrats making sure the letter of the law is followed while breaking its spirit; it can employ past and future legislators and regulators; if worst comes to worst, it can afford occassional fines or restructure and keep on tickin’.

    But are we better off with a system which provides incentives for people to be corporate employees rather than entrepreneurs, and whose economic growth is stifled by taxes and regulations?

    Historically, people start to care more about the environment as they become more prosperous: environmental protection is a luxury good.

    By stifling the economy, regulations reduce prosperity, an effect which is cumulative over time.

    So, indirectly, regulations may be hurting the environment more than they are helping.

    It’s a case of what is seen and what is not seen: the help they provide is visible, the damage – which is mostly opportunity cost – is harder to see or calculate.

    Government breaks your leg, hands you a crutch, and expects you to thank it for making it possible for you to walk (paraphrasing Harry Browne).

    So it is with the environment.

    Environmental regulations embody values that society comes to accept naturally as it becomes more prosperous through economic development, but its practical effect is to slow down the pace of the actual environmental benefits those changing values could be providing in the free market.

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