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"Climate Change, Evidence and Ideology"

Libertarian law prof. Jonathan Adler has a brief but interesting post up at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, explaining something of the internal conflict he faces in favoring limited government but acknowledging that it is likely that man is pushing the climate in ways that generates costs that merit concern:


Great post, Jon.  I think that there are many Austrians who understand WHY there might be a climate change problem to which man contributes, as the atmosphere is an open-access resource, in which there are no clear or enforceable property rights that rein in externalities or that give parties with differing preferences an ability to engage in meaingful transactions that reflect those preferences. 

But, flawed human beings that we are, we have difficulty truly keeping our minds open (subconscious dismissal of inconsistent data is a cognitive rule) and we easily fall into tribal modes of conflict that provide us with great satisfaction in disagreeing with those evil “others” while circling the wagons (and counting coup) with our brothers in arms.

Sadly, this is very much in evidence in the thread to your own post.

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  1. TokyoTom
    February 26th, 2008 at 11:10 | #1

    Juan:  “Responsible libertarians should avoid providing arguments for their enemies.”  What is this supposed to mean?  That libertarians should never change their minds for the most convenient position on matters of science?  People like that are what Hayek said he disapproved of in his essay “Why I am not a Conservative”.

  2. Juan
    February 24th, 2008 at 19:05 | #2

    Climate change is a non-problem on one hand and the perfect excuse for totalitarianism on the other. Responsible libertarians should avoid providing arguments for their enemies. Also, I think it was pretty obvious for libertarians that the price of gov’t solutions is always higher than the benefits supposedly earned through these ‘solutions’.

  3. TokyoTom
    February 12th, 2008 at 04:27 | #3

    Donny: “I would be hesitant to make an analogy to ranchers deciding what to do with their territory; governments are not forming agreements about their own contributions to climate change, but rather are agreeing to coerce their citizens into certain things, regardless of what those individuals think about it.”

    I understand your objections, but please understand my point, which is that in the case of climate change there is no single government that is seeking to coerce us, for its own benefit and that of insiders. Rather, at the international level this is very much an open, multi-party negotiation. None of the different governments (or packs of thieves, as some may have it) perfectly represents the interests of its citizens, but de facto they perform such a role, and such negotiations on the level of states are unavoidable. The situation is very much like one of resource users negotiatiating how to manage a commons.

  4. February 10th, 2008 at 15:44 | #4

    I agree with you and Adler that this has been an embarrassing subject for libertarians, who have in large part refused to talk about it. But I would be hesitant to make an analogy to ranchers deciding what to do with their territory; governments are not forming agreements about their own contributions to climate change, but rather are agreeing to coerce their citizens into certain things, regardless of what those individuals think about it. If we portray climate change as a justice issue, then that isn’t necessarily a problem; we wouldn’t have a major problem with coercing a burglar. But it’s important to realize that climate change policy must reflect some underlying view of what’s ethically permissable. To be honest, it’s unclear what kind of ethical paradigm is consistent with the kinds of policy we’ve been hearing about.

  5. Mac
    February 7th, 2008 at 20:32 | #5

    Thank you for you informed and reasoned response. I will get back to you, as time allows, with the DDT data and quotes as well as Greenpeace. I like to be accurate in my statements, which I am sure that I am, but I hardly expect you or anyone else to take my word for it.

    However, the WHO is trying to get the DDT ban lifted in Africa and the African nations are begging for it, but it is the enviro’s who are fighting it tooth and nail. But, that said, I will get the hard data for you.

  6. TokyoTom
    February 7th, 2008 at 07:17 | #6

    Mac, thanks for the comments – which it seems run to your general views of enviros instead of to this particular post.

    I think the key for Austrians in approaching environmental issues has to be an understanding that these issues are ones of an inability of people with different preferences to express those preferences in the marketplace through economic transactions, due to a lack of clear or enforceable private or community property rights in resources. As a result, the disputes become politicized.

    Austrians should fundamentally be sympathetic to all sides here, and focus on how, practically, can property rights (or joint management systems) be established.

    Sure, some enviros might be socialists, but many rent-seekers on the corporate side are essentially socialist as well. But ideology has little to do with whether or not there is actually a problem that deserves consideration.

    More specifically, have you really researched the DDT issue? I think that you are wrong on the facts and that your summary is sloppy and muddled. Do you have any idea who banned DDT, when, where and for what applications?

    I’m not sure about the Romanian mining issue. Who were enviros pressuring – the foreign mining co? I’d say they have every right to exert market pressure on such firms, even if they may be wrong from a policy perspective. I don’t object to such projects, as long as the local community actually has the ability to collect damages in the event of pollution by the mining firm.

    As for Bush, perhaps you might want to read the article on the main blog about Glen Greenwald’s book, “How would a Patriot Act?” The Administration’s push to spy on us, control us and to hide it’s actions from us, all free of Congressional oversight or any submission to rule of law, has been real and appalling.

    Of course we should be skeptical about whether government can actually help do soemthing about climate change. That said, people overstate what is likely to happen. First, there is no global government, but many independent ones that are all trying to agree how to deal with a shared atmosphere while still cutting a good deal for themselves. The situation is analogous to ranchers negotiating to close of a range to newcomers and set management rules to keep the range in good shape.

    Second, the US is unlikely to adopt any system that is more burdensome than other industrialized nations. Adding a tax on carbon is hardly intrusive, and such a tax could be used to offset payroll or income taxes. If cap and trade is adopted, such a system would have the effect of creating market prices for GHG emisssions. Either system would essentially send signals to the market, and leave everyone free to act in ways that suit their own preferences, and would be preferable to mandates or the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize investments in new technologies.

  7. Mac
    February 6th, 2008 at 19:43 | #7

    I don’t believe that the best initial reaction to environmental issues is to curse “enviros” as being “misanthropes” who hate mankind and are itching for most of us to die.

    I agree. I want a clean environment as much as anyone. However, you have only to look at the DDT ban in Africa to prove that there are a great many enviro’s who, if not wishing for mankind to die, don’t care if a great many do die even when the science as with DDT, is now known to be seriously flawed (actually, it was known to be flawed then. The ban was purely political.).

    You may have missed the interview on tv with the President of Greenpeace who fought against mining in Rumania, even though Rumania is one of the poorest countries on Earth and desperately needs economic development. He actually said that the people are poor, but they smile a lot. So, they are happy in their poverty, I guess. This movement is where white Republicans were 60 years ago with their “Let them eat cake” attitude. (yes, I know she didn’t really mean it.)
    Remember, the co-founder of Greenpeace broke away from the organization is disgust as Greenpeace was no longer science based, but purely political.

    Anything that will give all governments vast powers over every aspect of our lives, needs to be viewed with extreme skepticism. This makes anything Bush has done, which I have never noticed in my life nor heard anyone else with any specific example of a loss of privacy, pale in comparison. There is no comparison.

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