Yellow and Blue Make Green | Opinion

The environment is a stick with which libertarians are stuck gleefully, and often. If our libertarian ideals are to be taken seriously, they need to be seen to deal satisfactorily with the problem of pollution – a problem that is deeply intertwined with the pressures of consumerism.

Personally, I’m on the fence about climate change. I’m (at best) an ignorant admirer of science, and I’m not one for blindly taking people on their word. If, however, we accept that climate change really is a problem – and many say that it is – then the question for libertarians becomes: what should we do about it?

We have to accept the status quo, for a start. The decision has already been made (by voters) that governments will intervene. The political “flavour” of governments seems to matter little when it comes to the climate change issue – whether right-leaning or left-leaning, they all seem to respond to the pressure to “do something.” Libertarians, therefore, must start here, and convince voters that their solutions are the best available.

To begin with, let’s consider taxing carbon emissions. A simple solution is nearly always best. The idea of carbon markets – power plants in California selling their credits before demand increases, for instance – is destructive nonsense. Taxation, that necessary evil (yes, Russell Norman), is a far more effective way to influence behaviour.

If a carbon tax were to be implemented, polluters would naturally try to avoid it. They would essentially be faced with two options: pay the extra in taxation, or cut down on carbon emissions by finding alternative ways to produce the same goods. The downside, of course, is the depression of economic activity due to the tax’s flow-on price effects. The upside, however, is that such a policy may reduce consumer demand for luxury items.

More importantly, what would happen if such a tax were axed? Would the lessons we have learnt be remembered and passed down? I highly doubt it. We live in a resilient, docile consumer culture, and tend to overlook the realities of what such a culture means for the environment.

This is precisely what the “interventionist environmentalist” has to answer for, and is the reason why governmental policies are merely short-term solutions. There is virtually nothing governments can do – save going to war or installing an authoritarian regime – to change such a culture.

The only option is to continuing researching and debating in an effort to raise awareness; and that is the libertarian way.
This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2013.
Posted 2:29pm Sunday 29th September 2013 by Guy McCallum.