A Better Approach To Climate Change


When I talk about climate change with skeptics, I tend to shrug off the discussion with, “you have your science, I have mine.” I often find it akin to debating abortion; there is very little one can do to convince another to stray from their position, regardless of available science, religious doctrine, or philosophy. But it has come to my attention that some hold the fallacious belief that if you are a libertarian and buy that climate change is both man-made and hazardous, you must believe that governmental intervention is the only answer.

I have found that many libertarians are skeptical about climate change for this very reason. It’s far more convenient to avoid addressing the collective action problems that climate change poses (like how to protect communally used water, build infrastructure to increase recovery time after a storm, or reduce a given country’s carbon emissions) than provide answers that don’t involve state coercion. Essentially, I have more often found that libertarians do not believe in climate change because there are no easy answers. It’s a lot easier than addressing the problem without a go-to solution.

I agree that current state-based (and even market-based) solutions are not working. For example, government investments in “clean” energy have fallen short. FEMA did an embarrassing job cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. EPA standards don’t even apply to many government agencies, which are the United States’s biggest polluters. Investment in corn ethanol was an enormous waste of cash. And through all this, the government continues to subsidize oil and coal and bailout car manufacturers. The incompetence and hypocrisy is astounding.

However, the government’s failures are not an excuse to continue being skeptical of climate change or step away from finding answers to these difficult questions. As “once in a century” hurricanes seem to occur once in a decade and desertification continues to affect millions in Asia and Africa, denying that climate change exists will continue to be a losing strategy. I am ever concerned that as global warming continues to create public health problems and damage private property, the Left will become ever stronger in creating new wasteful “green” government programs that are both intrusive and ineffective.

Libertarians, we have been focusing on the wrong part of this problem.

I believe that there are micro steps that politicians can take to address the climate change problem. A great example comes from David Friedman. He notes that, during the industrial revolution, farmers affected by factory pollution could take these companies to court if the waste started to infringe on the farmers’ private property. Unfortunately, judges ruled that industrial power was part of the common good. Friedman writes, “The judges said, in effect, ‘Sorry. We know that industrial smoke (i.e., air pollution) invades and interferes with your property rights. But there is something more important than mere property rights: and that is public policy, the ‘common good.’” Perhaps its time to ask our representatives enforce property rights once more. Start holding private polluters accountable for damaging the oceans, the air, and the earth.

This would be a small, advisable step to start addressing the climate change problem. I agree that we don’t have a good solution beyond supporting private property rights, but it is better than twiddling our thumbs as the Left gains momentum.

The way I see it, the libertarian and conservative approach to climate change is to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Ron Paul called global warming “a hoax,” Rand Paul says scientists are “making up their facts,” and Cato, CEI, and AEI, all prominent libertarian/conservative think tanks, have scholars that propagate the “myth of global warming.” In doing so, we are not even recognizing that climate change is a problem. That will be a mistake down the road.