The Libertarian Case for Controlling Climate Change

by Daniel Farber

April 27, 2010

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Libertarians are, of course, deeply suspicious of government regulation. This may lead to a reflexive rejection of climate change mitigation.   But Jonathan Adler, who provides a refreshingly distinctive view of environmental law from the Right, argues otherwise.  In a forthcoming article (only the abstract is available on SSRN), he contends that libertarians are making a mistake in opposing climate mitigation:

[E]ven if anthropogenic climate change is decidedly less than catastrophic – indeed, even if it net beneficial to the globe as whole – human-induced climate change is likely to contribute to environmental changes that violate traditional conceptions of property rights. Viewed globally, the actions of some countries – primarily developed nations (such as the United States) and those nations that are industrializing most rapidly (such as China and India) – are likely to increase environmental harms suffered by less developed nations – nations that have not (as of yet) made any significant contribution to global climate change. . . .  As a consequence, this paper suggests a complete rethinking of the conventional conservative and libertarian approach to climate change.

Adler’s argument seems unanswerable to me.  Carbon emitters are causing harm to the property rights of others — for instance, through sea level rise that will directly deprive owners of portions of their land.  People who really care about property rights should worry a lot about climate change.  This doesn’t mean that they should necessary favor any particular approach to mitigation — Adler, for instance, favors heavy investments in developing new energy technologies.  Yet, to favor inaction is inconsistent with libertarian principles.

ADDENDUM.

Adler also favors a revenue-neutral carbon tax, like that proposed by James Hansen or Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), and think such a policy would be far better than cap-and-trade or traditional regulation. Here are a piece he did for TNR Online and some of the relevant posts on Volokh:

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/backing-words-intelligent-targeted-action

http://volokh.com/posts/1177606109.shtml

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2008_01_27-2008_02_02.shtml#1201968666

http://volokh.com/2009/12/08/krugman-v-hansen/

http://volokh.com/2010/03/02/cap-and-trade-is-dead-long-live-cap-and-trade/

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Daniel Farber

Daniel A. Farber is the Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the California Center for Environmental Law and Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

'National Security' Coal Bailout Collapses

Farber | Oct 17, 2018 | Energy

Progressive Regulatory Reform

Farber | Oct 08, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

The Case for Co-Benefits

Farber | Sep 27, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

The Jobs and Regulation Issue Revisited

Farber | Sep 25, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

From Surviving to Thriving -- FEMA and Disaster Resilience

Farber | Sep 10, 2018 | Climate Change

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015