An Existential Crisis for Libertarianism

Brad Plumer has the story of an all too typical sequence of events. Cato seeks to put together a list of academics who challenge the scientific consensus on climate change. A bunch of respected climate scientists point out that the papers Cato cites actually support the scientific consensus. And someone from Cato responds to the challenge by, well, not responding to it.

This is a serious problem for libertarians. Climate science has followed a path very similar to many other sciences over the past few decades. An interesting hypothesis touched off a great deal of research which led to a growing consensus on the validity of the hypothesis — that in fact, it was consistent with the available data. But scientific progress in other fields didn’t, by and large, generate some rather significant policy implications (the minimalist one of which, for climate change, is that something should be done, even if that something is simply preparing for the effects of warming). And so libertarian think tanks haven’t devoted themselves to trying to undermine the science in those fields, while libertarians have gone to war against the field of climate science. They made this choice not because they dislike the process of scientific inquiry, but because they dislike the policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion.

That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.

A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having. If I were a part of a movement that demanded I not get out of the way of oncoming cars, and that challenged the conclusion of the fields of physics and biology that an impact between the car and my person would leave my person badly damaged, I would begin to suspect that this movement was maybe full of crazy people with very bad ideas. I suspect most people, and perhaps nearly all people would arrive at this conclusion. And if that movement couldn’t come up with a better way to approach the problem of the oncoming car, well, it would eventually find itself abandoned, destroyed by the insistent encroachment of reality.

Comments

  1. Doug says:

    Cato may have spun off the wheels, but a lot of libertarians are comfortable with a carbon tax.

  2. Ryan Lanham says:

    Great post. This facet of belief system prioritization over science should have a single word name…like fundamentalism, orthodoxy or such…but something that implies to a rational reader the high likelihood of intellectual rot.

  3. John Jacobs says:

    This article makes a number of hugely wrong assumptions and is just another attempt to bash folks you don’t agree with.

    I’m a libertarian and don’t believe in any of the climate change, earth is warming due to man nonsense. BUT…even if it was true, the absolute best way to attack it is through the free markets. The free markets identify a need (In your case, the survival of earth) and is the absolute most efficient way to deal with it (whether through solutions, adaptations, or preparing for the effects). There is absolutely no contradiction in beliefs or science.

    In truth the group that is stuck to dogma, is you! You’re belief that government has any ability whatsoever to force us into solutions that actually will work.

  4. Paul Benjamin says:

    You have to remember that CATO was backed by Koch Oil in the early years. They are backed by oil dollars and want to respond to their funding base.

  5. Herb says:

    To elaborate on what Ryan Lanham said, isn’t libertarianism basically a fundamentalist movement anyway?

    Some of the most rigid, ideological people I’ve known have been libertarians.

  6. Ottovbvs says:

    What’s happening is the tide is literally coming in on all the counterfactual ideas of which libertarians and the right in general has made itself a prisoner. Global warming science is just one of them but there are literally dozens of them and they are going to have devastating political consequences. As for CATO it’s essentially a free market version of AIPAC. Funded by various right wing millionaires with economic interests to protect and prejudices to bolster. When they have to oppose something they do whatever it takes. American history is littered with this stuff. The tobacco industry’s defense of smoking being probably the most notable example. They’ve convinced a lot of people like John Jacobs, just as they convinced a lot of people that smoking would give you an image like the Marlboro man. I suppose it all comes down to whether you treat organizations like CATO or AEI seriously as objective sources of information and analysis or as business front groups which is what they really are.

  7. JC says:

    You enviro”mental-cases” are going to be the foolish ones when the next mini-ice age hits. BANK ON IT you “chicken-shit littles”. 8-)

  8. NotSraight says:

    “”You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There’s been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away — all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. Do you think this is the first time that’s happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn’t have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we’re gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”"

  9. Clark Meyer says:

    John Jacobs, your denial of scientific consensus for ideological reasons helps make Ryan’s point.

    But you are wrong about about your faith in free and unfettered markets’ being best suited for dealing with a problem such as climate change. Pollution (of any sort) is a classic economic externality, an impact of an economic transaction that that falls on a party outside of the transaction. What is the economic incentive for either me or my electric power provider to do anything different when the costs of the carbon externality will be borne by future generations? Sorry, but your premise makes no sense.

    I believe in the basic libertarian ideal that individual freedom should be maximized and protected, but if the legitimate role of government in this construct is to intervene when one person’s actions limit the freedom of another, then surely our ruining the earth for our children and grandchildren (and beyond) meets the criteria for government action?

  10. txtruman says:

    Libertarianism has much to offer our political discourse, but every belief system has its dogma, its blind spots. Libertarianism classically has two:

    1. Government is the only agent of oppression.
    2. Government can do nothing right.

    The most cursory glance at human history and human society quickly and utterly refutes both those claims. The issue is not whether libertarianism is dogmatic, it’s whether libertarians are. Reasonable ones, i.e. moderate and practical ones, can engage with reality. Dogmatic ones, i.e. fundamentalist ones, cannot.

  11. decklap says:

    Fundamentalism of any strip is implicitly a cognitive short cut that appeals to people who are much more comfortable living with assumptions than dealing with the messiness of a changing factual landscape. Libertarians? Guilty.

  12. Elvis Elvisberg says:

    A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having.

    That’s libertarianism’s whole approach. It finds empirical accuracy and, even more bizarrely, morality in supply and demand curves. It has nothing to do with the way that humans have ever lived, thought, or behaved.

  13. Jason Craig says:

    NotStraight’s post is almost not worthy of response. It’s a classic non-sequiter. The issue of course is not whether the planet itself survives, it is whether man will and in what kind of environment. It is indisputable that human activity has altered the habitat and hastened the extinction of many species. We’ve altered water courses, greened deserts, desertified green space, and now are impacting our very climate. If persistent water shortage, prospects of dramatic changes in food productivity of land, species loss, and coastal flooding appeal to you, then continue to spout tripe about how the “earth” will survive. The issue is and always has been how humans will live and what kind of environment and resources, will we hand off to the next generation. That we are diminishing our natural capital is indisputable.

  14. david says:

    How do you justify leaping from “Cato did X” to “libertarians do X”? They are one discreet group of libertarians, who, as one commenter pointed out, have their own constituencies to please. Even free market fundamentalists (you might be able to lump me into that category, but please don’t without having a conversation first) think that certain conditions have to apply for a market to reach a favorable outcome: clear rules of the game, clearly defined property rights, non-coercion, etc. I think it’s pretty clear that there are serious externalities going on here, so I don’t see any contradiction (at all!) between libertarianism and coordinated action on climate change.

    However, all that said, I think your analogy of the car coming at you is really wrong. There you’re faced with a basically infinite cost coming down the pike and would do just about anything to avoid it (cut off an arm, eg). The fact is that due to the complexity of the systems involved, the degree of certainty we can have about the effects of climate change is quite a bit smaller than the certainty we have about the effects of a car hitting us. This complicates the cost/benefit thinking on the matter. Also, it is really annoying to see that a lot of people seem to think that fixing climate change is a zero-cost proposition when it is clearly not.

  15. Peter Twieg says:

    I’m a libertarian, and I have to say that I agree with the gist of this post – Cato’s involvement with denying the science of climate change is something I’m quite uncomfortable with. It makes libertarians look like the fundamentalists that Herb describes, when in general Cato has been pretty good at promoting a “respectable” image. I simply don’t think that evaluating the science should be part of Cato’s mission – although in their defense, I’d venture to guess that they’ve become less strident about this over the years.

    A lot of libertarians (including myself) have managed to shrug and accept the desirability of a carbon tax (or, failing that, a cap-and-trade system.) I think that institutions like Cato would be able to do a lot more good by focusing on environmental solutions that employ rigorous cost-benefit analyses, which is something which many climatologists and leftists are intellectually hostile towards.

  16. “life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety.”- NotSraight

    Well then, I guess we have nothing to worry about.

  17. david says:

    reading peter twieg’s comment, I realize I should amend my comment to not say ‘coordinated action.’ That, to me, would imply federally mandated implementation of certain technologies (like the ethanol we all love). Peter’s right: tax it and let the market sort the least expensive abatement.

  18. Geoff G says:

    I made a similar at TNR this morning – the problem with Cato’s skepticism is that it isn’t skepticism. A skeptic questions his own assumptions as rigorously as he questions the assumptions of others. Cato doesn’t do this – they zealously look for flaws in the global warming case, and even more zealously look for exaggerations and mistatements by prominent warming proponents, but apply no scrutiny, not even minimal scrutiny, to their own position. This is guaranteed to result in an inaccurate view of the issue.

  19. Intelitary Milligence says:

    To most of you: Pot. Kettle.

    To Geoff G: What’s stopping you from examining their position?

  20. Intelitary Milligence says:

    Carbon dioxide and sunlight feeds the plants which produce oxygen which animals need.

    It is not a pollutant.

    Cap and trade makes sense because it will allow increased production of food. Yeah you heard me. But it is also precisely the mass rerouting of resources and man made change you decry.

    What if summer comes too early and fall comes too late?

    What if winter comes too soon after fall and spring comes too late?

    What if spring lasts too long and summer is too short?

    What if fall is too long and winter is too short?

    All of these have disastrous consequences and they wouldn’t even show up on your warming studies because the average increase in temperature around the globe wouldn’t be affected read that again, the shortened term you people use rightfully gets ridiculed. In your headlong rush to prove your social manhood you ignore the much more dangerous changes in the dynamics of climate change while you worship the golden calf of the easier to understand mechanics of climate change.

    Scientists dropped the global warming term long ago. Climate change is the key. And it will come at you from behind that gaping blind spot you’ve set up for yourselves.

  21. Frank says:

    Thank you for this great post.

    Why do we have massive dependence on foreign oil? Who have been shouting down CAFE standards for years on end? Who would go to the barricades to defend to the death any individual’s right to own and drive an SUV, Hummer (or perhaps a tank, post-Heller)? And who, while decrying politicians for trading ethanol subsidies for political donations, turns around and says the First Amendment prevents any real campaign finance reform?

    I make the case in the web site above, and though I went too far in the comments, I stand by the basic point…thanks for this post.

  22. TTT says:

    Intelitary:
    Carbon dioxide and sunlight feeds the plants which produce oxygen which animals need. It is not a pollutant.

    Human feces does the same thing. Try eating some, then get back to me about whether we should stop calling it a pollutant.

    Light, heat, and sound are also pollutants. When an excess amount of ANY substance or process is injected into an ecosystem and causes that system to degrade, it is a pollutant.

  23. Mike says:

    “You have to remember that CATO was backed by Koch Oil in the early years. They are backed by oil dollars and want to respond to their funding base.”

    Typical smearing. They get some money from oil interests, but it’s a small fraction.

    I’m surprise at CATO’s behavior because they organized a conference heading by Bjorn Lonborg — who accepts global warming but disputes the popular solutions. Patrick Michaels was right about of global warming — arguing that it was real but smaller than the alarmists were claiming in the late 90′s — the recent projections are closer to his values than the alarmists.

    Moreover, libertarianism — and CATO specifically — aren’t nearly as monolithic as you’re claiming. There’s plenty of dispute just at CATO. And Reason accept global warming.

    Finally, looking over their letter, they are not disputing climate change as such but the catastrophic alarmist projections of some of the models and the doomsaying. Why is that necessarily “denialism” to argue that it may not be as bad as the Algore’s are saying? That we may not be about to pass the point of no return?

    Lazy post, man.

  24. Stephen Meli says:

    The author confuses belief in climate science with an ipso facto belief in the policy recommendations laid out by environmentalists and politician. I can agree that the earth is warming without agreeing that government interventions will reverse the rate of climate change or that it will make us better off.

    The market is the best distributor of scarce resources since it follows the laws of supply and demand. Environmentalists who decide to disregard supply/demand and the price system lose all credibility.

    Accepting the premise that the Earth is warming on a massive scale does not mean that the government should impose price controls and subsidize unprofitable enterprises. It disrupts economic activity and diverts resources away from places that they would be most efficiently used. This makes the world poorer and less able to adapt to their environmental conditions. Wealth creation is the best measure by which to counteract the effects of global warming on humanity. When living standards increase, access to medical care and nutritious foods, among other things, will balance the damage that could possibly be done. In a hundred years or so when the worst effects of global warming are supposed to start, poverty should be a smaller percentage of the world than it is currently. The world should be more industrialized and have more goods and services available for distribution.

    Inhibiting this growth so that you can pass a carbon tax that will basically do nothing to counter the rate of global warming is foolish.

  25. John Pertz says:

    So am I wrong for being a libertarian, believing every word of the environmentalist movement, and then also thinking that electoral politics is incapable of solving the problem?

    I know trendy straw men like all libertarians deny science and are fundamentalist are good for left wing self deception, however, it is very legitimate to argue that the electoral process will fumble this problem all over itself and not create socially optimal policy. Therefore the libertarian position is still on firm ground even if all the climate models are 100 percent accurate.

    Thank you for your time.

  26. tehdude says:

    I actually believe that climate change theory is not supported by the data.

    I think that people like you are in serious denial about people actually disagreeing with your science. You like to pretend we don’t exist to avoid the inconvenient empirical analysis.

  27. scribble says:

    I am not a Libertarian. I am a Progressive/Liberal.

    My advice: Looking forward, Libertarians should focus on the Civil Rights that their Bush-era Conservative friends have taken away from them. They were betrayed. They need to take back their Civil Rights.

    Freedom is important. When you take away freedom, you squelch the new ideas that create wealth. You make it impossible for the past generation of idea-makers to update and reapply their insights to the new cultures they have helped to create. You make it easier for dishonest forces to loot your property and pervert Government. Losing Civil Rights leaves everybody isolted and out of touch. It starts with your siding with Conservatives in the GOP; drinking their fear-flavored koolaid.

    sc

  28. Intelitary Milligence says:

    “Human feces does the same thing. Try eating some, then get back to me about whether we should stop calling it a pollutant.”

    - If this is the height of debate on this topic… A pollutant causes damage because of its natural properties regardless of its quantity. Excess is excess.

    “Light, heat, and sound are also pollutants. When an excess amount of ANY substance or process is injected into an ecosystem and causes that system to degrade, it is a pollutant.”

    - Actually no it’s called excess. But that’s the problem. The excess causes damage but the policies set up intend to control all of the product. And systems don’t degrade. They are damaged. The whole idea of a degrading system is simply the fallacy of a continuum.

    This is the subtle difference that is going to kill millions.

  29. Walt says:

    This libertarian is reluctant to agree that the answer to great problems is tyranny.

  30. not a psychophant says:

    Elvis, take an econ course. Your comments on supply and demand reveal your ignorance. Clark Meyer on the other hand is correct in his explanation of externalities. They are a classic example of market failure. But to ignore scientific dissent makes him (and ryan) as much a fundamentalist as the libertarians he attacks.
    as a side note, if there is in fact anthropomorphic global warming, I expect to benefit from it. Lucky me.

  31. doodle says:

    scribble Says:
    Libertarians should focus on the Civil Rights that their Bush-era Conservative friends have taken away from them.

    Conservative friends? You don’t know much about Libertarians, do you…

  32. That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science.

    This assumes that what statists and the economically ignorant demand be done are the only viable options. They aren’t.

    Pollution (of any sort) is a classic economic externality, an impact of an economic transaction that that falls on a party outside of the transaction. What is the economic incentive for either me or my electric power provider to do anything different when the costs of the carbon externality will be borne by future generations?

    Mr. Meyer, there are free market solutions for this problem. First, we must acknowledge the vast state control of the electric power system. That corrupts the discussion from the outset because an consistent libertarian doesn’t think the state should have any say in how utilities are produced, delivered, or priced. A rather “fundamentalist” position, but one I take regardless of the terms used to slander it.

    Once the issue is brought to the public’s attention, some consumers will start demanding power sources that don’t contribute to the problem, thus giving birth to a market for alternatives. It may be small, but there’s no denying the demand exists. The problem is supplying that demand at a price they will accept.

    At the same time, some of the more risk-taking electric providers (assuming they have the state permission to act independently!) may see a massive future opportunity to supply a growing need AND do something to stave off potential catastrophe (that always looks good in your prospectus). There’s no denying the incentive to create the supply.

    Likewise, investors looking to plan ahead/take advantage of new trends/soothe their conscience could begin to demand cleaner output from the businesses in which they own stock or from which they might buy bonds.

    So why haven’t supply and demand met up to begin a green-themed marriage? I say it’s primarily because most of us were raised on and live in an environment of artificially low energy prices. There is no free market in electricity. Rates are mandated and subsidized at different levels and to different degrees all over the country. Producing facilities, assuming they aren’t owned by the state outright, are entangled in regulation from top to bottom. Cities, counties, states, and the feds all have their fingers in this pie and enforce the utilities’ illegitimate monopoly power. Any libertarian response to the byproducts of energy production must confront this.

    I’d normally include a bit about bringing torts against polluting companies, but that works best when the connection between the pollution and the injured parties is direct and immediately observable. I could certainly see some die-hards bringing their cases against coal-burning plant owners, but a libertarian legal system would need proof of existing harm to the litigants’ person or property, something I don’t see very possible regarding greenhouse gases.

  33. Clark Meyer says:

    Mr. Hueter, in theory I’d like nothing more than consumer demand-driven change in a free marketplace to be the driver of substantive change (I actually do pay a premium for green power and am happy to contribute in my own small way to demand-based change). But I’m afraid your perfect-world scenario falls far short of a pragmatic, workable solution. I’m curious: have large-scale environmental externalities EVER been adequately addressed by simple consumer-driven supply and demand? Particularly when torts have been removed from the equation?

    At any rate, the biggest impediment, in my mind, to the sweeping sea-change in public opinion that would be needed for your green-themed marriage proposal to work out, is that organizations like Cato continue to sew uncertainty about the issue and rally the idologues to view climate science through what amounts to little more than a culture-war lens.

  34. LibertyCowboy says:

    With respect to the carbon tax, I think there are fundamental problems with the way it is implemented.

    If producing carbon dixoide is to be taxed, then logically coverting CO2 to oxygen should be rewarded, and we should be credited for growing trees and such in comprable amounts.

    I also think the caps and trading should apply to individuals rather than power companies, although I should be able to trade my allotment to a power company if so desired.

  35. LibertyCowboy says:

    With respect to global warming, there are a number of questions:

    1) Is it real?
    2) Is it casued by man?
    3) Is it desirable or undesirable?
    4) If it is undesirable, how can it best be eliminated?
    5) What resouces should be allocated to any plan of elimination?

    Most, but not all, libertarians agree global warming is occuring.

    There is no way to know whether or not it is caused by man as we’d need to have a second Earth without any people on it. While some consider it to be connected as a mater of faith, there is contrary evidence. After all, there is global warming on Mars which clearly isn’t soley a product of the Mars Rover.

    There are winners and lossers in global warming. It will increase the airable land, meaning fewer starve. However, some beachfront property may end up under water, reducing its tax value.

    Probably the biggest conflict between most libertarians and the current envirornmental movement concerns the latter two isses. The command and control style approach to environmental policy does not appear to be cost effective when compared with simpler solutons such as seeding the ocean with iron.

    While environmental policy remains controversal, the world faces a number of problems which are not generally in dispute ranging from disease to poverty. One could make a strong case that these other issues should be made a priority while energy technology is given time to improve.

    While the current course of public policy may well result in world that is environmentally sustainable, it won’t result in one which is economically sustainable, and both pose serious concerns for future generations.

  36. John Jacobs says:

    For all of you environmental wackos out there. Let’s assume you are correct and there is climate change taking place.

    Give me some proof it is bad for the climate to change? Isn’t there an equal chance that there are benefits from a changing climate?

    The amount of variables and interactions amongst those variable, not to mention the innate ability of humans to adapt is on a scale that is inconceivable.

    So, I go back to my original comment. Assuming climate change is real… are the effects good or bad? And with what certainty can you say that? Might your solutions cause more harm than good?

    I’d love to hear some serious answers to your these questions.

  37. assman says:

    I don’t believe in global warming and I am libertarian. i have doubts though about libertarianism but for other reasons. Global warming on the other hand I have few doubts about….i think its a load of bullshit.

  38. Vangel says:

    AGW is not supported by the science so there is no need for libertarians to apologize about their opposition to carbon taxes.

  39. bi -- IJI says:

    All the self-styled global warming ‘skeptics’ (who’ll mindlessly accept any screed that says global warming isn’t real) only prove Ryan’s original point.

    Libertarianism is a religion.

  40. If Freeman Dyson can be skeptical about AGW, so can I.

    The science is MUCH, MUCH less settled than the idiot who owns this blog believes. Thus, when libertarians properly react to that, he decries us? I’m all like “WTF?”

  41. hapa says:

    libertycowboy:

    here’s a really good introduction to what scientists expect full-speed global warming to do to us.
    http://climateprogress.org/2009/03/22/an-introduction-to-global-warming-impacts-hell-and-high-water/

    ok so now, what did you say.

    Most, but not all, libertarians agree global warming is occuring.

    then only some libertarians are anti-science. the causes are as clear and well-documented now as the greenhouse effect itself. what we don’t know is exactly how the changes will go down, but we know they’ll be faster and more severe than we expected.

    There is no way to know whether or not it is caused by man as we’d need to have a second Earth without any people on it.

    then there is no way to know anything about the atmosphere or the ocean at all and we should stop using chemistry, because we can’t effectively test the result of chemical dumping in ecosystems.

    fortunately you’re wrong and it’s easy to test. unfortunately we ignore the tests when the results force us to act on promises we made but didn’t want to keep, such as “polluting another person’s property is theft.”

    the benefit of being a libertarian cowboy right now is the future can’t sue us! so you’re scot-free, right? because we have no responsibility to treat people well who can’t complain?

    While some consider it to be connected as a mater of faith, there is contrary evidence.

    evidence that is thrown out of court whenever it is presented, which is pretty much the definition of slander.

    on this issue, many libertarians are also against the rule of law.

    After all, there is global warming on Mars which clearly isn’t solely a product of the Mars Rover.

    mars warming is related to surface albedo. it’s a different event and an unfortunate coincidence.

    There are winners and lossers in global warming.

    current species lose, future species get a chance to thrive. i’ve heard the same thing about economics: tomorrow’s financially-healthy home buyers will get a great deal! imagine, not having to buy in a seller’s market. but hey, why isn’t anyone excited for them? it’s a mystery, isn’t it.

    so take that story, and instead make it about today’s animals, and some lucky insect in 200 years.

    It will increase the airable land, meaning fewer starve.

    no. desertification is very very bad. “permanent dust bowl” bad. “permanent drought” bad. this is not something we want to hand down to our grandkids.

    However, some beachfront property may end up under water, reducing its tax value.

    saltwater incursion is less funny than it looks. like, you would think that it’s funny how much harder it gets to drink tap water when it tastes like the ocean, or to grow crops, but actually, it’s not funny.

    The command and control style approach to environmental policy does not appear to be cost effective when compared with simpler solutons such as seeding the ocean with iron.

    yeah that’s true. maybe there’s another reason the iron fertilization hasn’t been done at large scale, like, it’s not very effective and maybe doesn’t do anything at all, in the final count.

    While environmental policy remains controversal, the world faces a number of problems which are not generally in dispute ranging from disease to poverty.

    oh, you mean like the UN millennium development goals, that would cost the world about as much a year as america pays for pet food?

    One could make a strong case that these other issues should be made a priority while energy technology is given time to improve.

    honestly: have you even heard of the MDG? or are you talking straight out of bjorn lomborg’s mouth?

    amazingly, we can do both. or, we COULD do both, if the rich countries gave a damn about anything other than taking a cut of local profits and buying cheap labor.

    While the current course of public policy may well result in world that is environmentally sustainable,

    – no, this is absolutely wrong, the current course is self-destructive –

    it won’t result in one which is economically sustainable, and both pose serious concerns for future generations.

    prioritize all you want. we can fix the economy, even when it gets screwed up as bad as this. the great depression and the second world war together lasted maybe 20, 25 years, in terms of recovery.

    the planet’s systems stay broken for centuries. or longer. because we have no way to fix them and if they go very hard against us, it becomes that much tougher for us to do anything about it.

    so be scared of communists if you want, but they can’t do to money anything like what you and i can do to the future of life on earth.

  42. Ben Kalafut says:

    The ironic thing is, the mainstream solutions are straight out of Coase and Hayek.

    There’s nothing about global warming which requires one to give up a strong value for individual liberty. There’s nothing devastating to liberalism in finding that Man is fouling his nest. We’ve found a new kind of scarcity and need to establish a property right to bring use down to safe levels.

    But instead of advocating this my fellow libertarians more often than not simply became credulous, anti-rational embarrassments, fumbling about for easy half-fixes or red herring rhetorical tricks to delay action. And they’ve only served to slowly forfeit the modern-classical-liberal place at the table.

    If you think this is bad, have a look at internecine arguments on the “pop” end of the libertarian movement. They’re confident, hold strong beliefs, and are usually ignorant sociopaths. It takes a certain kind of arrogant jerk to think that the IPCC report and works cited therein are “bullshit”. This from someone who identifies as a libertarian. Just not “that” kind.

  43. Grant says:

    Though I cannot speak for Cato, I believe many libertarians fear the use of climate change propaganda as a means to political ends, not scientific ones. In other words, climate change may be to science what Iraq’s WMDs were to the military.

    At any rate, here is one libertarian who doesn’t feel his beliefs challenged by climate change (true or not) at all. Public goods are public goods regardless of their scale, and neither governments nor markets are very good at providing them. Unfortunately the coordination problems which keep markets from providing large-scale public goods well are also present in governments, they just manifest themselves differently.

    I can’t say if governments or markets will fight climate change the hardest (my bet is that governments will do more to reduce carbon emissions, while markets will do more to find alternative energy sources), but if its a real threat I guess we’ll find out.

  44. …have large-scale environmental externalities EVER been adequately addressed by simple consumer-driven supply and demand?

    Mr. Meyer, even if I had done the research on large-scale externalities, I still wouldn’t be able to say yes or no conclusively. It is hard enough to find large numbers of people going about their business peacefully without state intervention; it is even harder to find that within the context of a large-scale environmental problem.

    I cannot think of a single big environmental problem over the last 30 years that did not have an intense dose of government involved throughout. Federal land ownership, state approval of egregious polluters over the objection of local residents, industry-state collusion to keep competition out, taxation distorting market processes, etc. Like I said regarding electricity production, this screws up the analysis from a libertarian standpoint. Simple buyer-seller transactions are rare outside the used or black markets.

    I hope you don’t take this as a dodge, but it’s the best answer I can give.

  45. Robert says:

    I just wanted to make a quick point and not get into the specifics.

    “A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having.”

    The belief system, at least as I see it from reading Stuart Mills, is that no position is infallible. And to keep positions from becoming stale and dogmatic they need to be challenged. Which has two possible effects; one will be to correct incorrect positions by proving them wrong, or twom strengthen a correct position by putting an opposing view to rest.

    The fundamental reality in this situation is that views/positions/facts are not infallible. That diversity of views will lead to the correct view more quickly than dogmatic views. And I think that’s a belief system definitely worth having.

  46. chronwell says:

    So Cato institute represents “libertarians”?! Really?@!
    Funny my libertarian thinktank is connected to my neck.
    All sorts of false assumptions and inflammatory language, most of which would normally induce me to follow the lead of my fellow liberty lovers and straighten u out but you are so disconnected from proper reasoning, that would be time better spent enjoying life’s pleasures.

  47. Mark says:

    Climate “science” is actually a religion.

    For thousands of years high priests have been telling people to repent or nature will punish them.

  48. Ben says:

    As many people have said already, the CATO institute doesn’t speak for all libertarians. I am a libertarian who thinks that it is extremely likely that climate change is real and caused by man. However, that doesn’t mean that the solution is necessarily more government regulations and controls. If CATO can be persuaded by donations by big oil, what makes you think that politicians can’t be?

    I don’t know what the best solution is, but the solution that is chosen needs to be equitable and needs to take into account markets. Ignoring markets, like many environmental alarmists do, will lead to unexpected outcomes (either poverty or pollution in a form/from a source they haven’t thought of yet.)

    Finally, I think the environmentalists need to be more careful about the words they use. NotSraight is right, humans in the long run are insignificant when it comes to life on earth. (The film Wall*E was particularly guilty of this thinking.) Natural systems are not somehow morally superior than man-made systems. The trick is in understanding what unintended consequences will do in the long run, and weather we want to deal with said consequences. Salt water incursion is a great example of this, although I don’t think drinking water is a problem. The vast majority of water is used for irrigation. Here, salt water is usually very bad. Should we hope we can invent saltwater-thriving crops, or should we take measures to prevent salt water incursion? I don’t know.

    I do know, however, that denying science can cause real and dangerous harm, and distorting markets can have real and dangerous consequences. Global Warming policy can have some serious unintended consequences.

  49. hapa says:

    ben:

    I am a libertarian who thinks that it is extremely likely that climate change is real and caused by man. However, that doesn’t mean that the solution is necessarily more government regulations and controls.… I don’t know what the best solution is, but the solution that is chosen needs to be equitable and needs to take into account markets.

    it is solutions plural and the interconnected pace of them necessitates strict new performance standards for equipment and processes. for information on the alternative risk management scheme of voluntary performance standards and self-regulation, see your checkbook.

  50. Thomas B. says:

    Completely agree that the climatologists should be trusted over laypersons as to matters of climate.

    Similarly, econometricians should be tasked with weighing the consequences of changing our energy portfolio.

    For instance, ask an econometrician if green energy investments might actually help the economy, and they will tell you that this is basically the broken window fallacy.

    Increasing energy costs primarily affect the poor. So how many people should we be ready to starve to keep temperatures more stable?

    If you believe climate change will lead to irreversible apocalypse, your answer should be “as many as it takes.” For my part, if that’s the answer, I want to make sure the models are incredibly tight.

  51. Strat says:

    Speaking as an econometrician, I can tell you that econometricians don’t generally know a broken window fallacy from a plugged-up toilet, or care. Speaking as an economist who has read his Bastiat and has shared many a beer with many a capable libertarian economist, I can say that green investments have nothing to do with the broken window fallacy. As Bastiat pointed out, the kid who breaks the window does not help the economy. However, given that the window is broken the glazier certainly does help the economy. For our purposes, the inefficient polluter is the boy, and the green investor is the glazier.

  52. Leo says:

    It is pretty silly to think that mankind doesn’t have an effect on the environment. It should be obvious that we need to respect our extremely delicate ecosystem if we want to continue to live.
    Governmental policy on the behalf of businesses that have an economic incentive to pollute our environment has brought us to where we are now and continues to take place.
    In the 1930′s Dupont and the Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division of Kimberly Clark stood to lose billions because of hemp. Andrew Mellon, Dupont’s primary investor, became Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury and appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Secret government meetings were held by these financial tycoons and hemp was made illegal because it was a threat to their billion dollar environmentally unfriendly enterprises. This is the biggest and most egregious move against smart and environmentally friendly policy by a government on behalf of business in the history of the world.
    Modern day business interests are influencing governmental policy by supporting and funding the false notion that the best way to get us out of our global warming mess is to use billions of tax-payer provided subsidies to support costly, dirty, and dangerous nuclear, clean coal, and GMO corn produced ethanol technologies, all of which Barak Obama supports. It is only recently that the legalization of marijuana has seriously come into the public discourse here in America, and this very strong public outcry has been repeatedly scoffed at by Barak Obama.
    The real and main focus of environmental policy to combat global climate change should be on the legalization and utilization of industrial hemp. There is no reason to keep industrial hemp illegal and many many ways that industrial hemp could be used to control the tide of global climate change and make the world a much cleaner place to live.
    No one can convince me that government intervention is going to do the planet any good until the governmental policy of keeping industrial hemp illegal is put to an end and the huge government subsidies for oil, coal, and nuclear energy companies is put to an end. Please support Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) plans to reintroduce legislation to legalize the domestic farming of industrial hemp. If you are dubious as to the many benefits of industrial hemp please read this article. Lets focus on solutions instead of arguing.
    http://www.alternet.org/environment/133055/hemp_is_not_pot:_it\’s_the_economic_stimulus_and_green_jobs_solution_we_need/?page=entire

  53. Doug says:

    Chronwell, I’m in awe of your “my libertarian thinktank is connected to my neck.” Darn tootin’.

  54. Lonny Eachus says:

    I have seldom seen so much misunderstanding and mischaracterization of Libertarianism in one place. Not only the article, but many of the comments are quite literally laughable.

    There are so many errors on this page that it would take many days to correct them all… so I won’t even try. I will just close by saying that a lot of you people obviously do not realize just how foolish you look to the better-informed.

  55. Joe says:

    To clarify, NotStraight is quoting George Carlin.

  56. Nat says:

    “The free markets identify a need and is the absolute most efficient way to deal with it.”

    That is true. But a Market is not the same thing as an Economic System.

    A Market is any structure that allows buyers and sellers to exchange any type of goods. An Economic system is THE PROTOCOL by which people trade. An Economic system operates WITHIN a market. Any COMMERCIAL DEMANDS in the marketplace can be addressed by the Economic System.

    However, ALL GOVERNMENTS ALSO operate WITHIN that same market. These governments are NOT AN ANOMALY. It is unacademic and completely IRRATIONAL to rely on the convenience of a DEUS EX MACHINA to explain the origins of civil government (ie “Well, it’s the direct product of “Human Greed and Coercsion/Aggression/Force”). Government protects LAW AND ORDER in a civil society.

    Gov’t is the “acting arm” of civil society, and the network of human associations (civil society) is the “animating body” of that “arm” (= gov’t).

    Government is the POLITICAL SOLUTION to addressing POLITICAL DEMANDS.

    Ultimately, there is only ONE marketplace, and we are all freely participating in it under self-imposed or self-elected economic and political systems. Sometimes those economic and political systems compliment each other, sometimes they clash (Communism).

    In America (a Republic – referring to the state) Our political system is Representative Democracy (referring to the gov’t, and “Gov’t” is a distinct concept from “State”), our Economic System is Capitalism and I’m sorry, but it’s just not doing the job on its own when it comes to environmental protection.

    THE OBSERVALBE REALITY that the “invisible hand” is JUST NOT CUTTING IT is the justification for the “acting arm” to step in (Government intervention).

    Why? Simple: Because while the MARKET DEMAND is to transform the operations of society to be sustainable and promote the health of the planet’s ecosystems, the DEMAND ITSELF IS A TWOFOLD REQUEST.

    The first request is a declaration of the consumer’s desire (PERSONAL LIBERTY) to participate in the effort. It’s:
    1)The demand for goods and services to become available to the INDIVIDUAL/CONSUMER. This demand is PURELY COMMERCIAL = it contains a PROFIT MOTIVE. It’s a CONSUMER’S demand.

    Unfortunately, this approach as the sole strategy is VERY SLOW to restore the health of the environment! Climate change is a matter of urgency, and requires a FASTER RESPONSE. PEOPLE KNOW THIS. Only government can respond to this demand.

    BECAUSE the MARKET demand dictates FIRST AND FOREMOST for the protection of Ecosystem, NOT the servicing of individual consumers’ desires, the POLITICAL REQUEST (citizen demand) overrides the COMMERCIAL REQUEST (consumer demand).

    The Green Revolution is represents a CITIZEN’S demand.
    “Eco-chic” represents a CONSUMER’S demand.

    So:
    The second request is a declaration of the citizen’s desire to protect that which sustains his existence.
    2) It’s a legitimate demand by the majority, to the minority (Owners of Capital) to change to SUSTAINABLE practices that protect the environment.

    The second request is made by the group of individuals who DO NOT own the means of production, to the group of individuals WHO DO on behalf of the protection of the commons. This group (“the mob” as right-libs like to call it) is JUSTIFIED in their demand because there is no where else for them to live BESIDES THE COMMONS. And when land and resources are transferred from the commons to private ownership, it leaves ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE at the mercy of the discretion of those who own Capital.

    Example: If BP or TransOcean has PHYSICAL control of an oil rig’s construction and operations, investors and consumers are IN REALITY at the mercy of BP & TransOcean’s discretion in how to construct and operate that rig.

    If you are not PHYSICALLY THERE to call the shots, make decisions about construction, or to PHYSICALLY OPERATE something – you have no tangible “control” or “authority” over it.

    It is precisely on these grounds that “participatory gov’t” is dismissed by right-libs. “You have no real control over the government because you are not the one ACTUALLY calling the shots, ACTUALLY making the decisions = you are not ACTUALLY operating it. You are NOT in CONTROL.”

    The TRUTH HERE is that what you demand as a CITIZEN ALWAYS carries MORE POWER than what you demand as a CONSUMER. This is not a matter of morality – IT IS A MATTER OF FACT.

    Okay, so why is it that Capitalism IN PARTICULAR can’t handle this crisis on its own?

    It’s because the sole purpose of a business under Capitalism is to INCREASE PROFITS. What makes more profit? Investing (SPENDING MONEY) on remodeling your operations to be “Green”. Or selling (MAKING MONEY)

    Remember The Demand is twofold. People are demanding GREEN PRODUCTS (COMMERCIAL DEMAND) in order to PARTICIPATE in solving environmental problems. Capitalist enterprises will respond to this because there is a PROFIT MOTIVE.

    However, the other demand in the marketplace is purely POLITICAL. It’s the demand for businesses to remodel & restructure operations in response to environmental problems — in order to SOLVE those problems. But For a CAPITALIST venture, there is NO profit motive! In many cases, IT’S SUICIDE! It will KILL THE BUSINESS.

    The Free Market can handle this crisis for sure – IT’S FULLY EQUIPPED TO DO SO – but not under Capitalism alone. As corrupt and compromised as our government is, WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO TAKE IT BACK, not to RESTRICT IT, but to REFORM IT so that we can take collective action to respond to a common threat.

    And what about the Economy? What will happen to commerce if big bad co-ercive government steps in and saves our asses from say, extinction?

    Don’t worry “The markets will correct themselves” LoL. The economy will recover because life goes on. (but it does not go on if it ENDS due to pollution and exhaustion of the earth’s resources).