The Libertarian Case for Controlling Climate Change

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:

Even 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/

Read More by Daniel Farber
CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 19, 2022

Worker Safety Means Environmental Regulation

May 4, 2022

Clarifying the Congressional Review Act

May 2, 2022

Taking the Supreme Court's Temperature on Global Warming

April 27, 2022

New Report: Democratizing Our Regulatory System Is More Important Than Ever. Can FERC Lead the Way?

April 26, 2022

HBO Max Series Highlights Need for Stronger Regulation of Cosmetics Industry

April 25, 2022

Biden Undoes NEPA Rollback

April 22, 2022

The Clean Water Act's Midlife Crisis