A libertarian response to global warming

Thursday, June 01, 2006


What if global warming is a hoax?
If global warming is a hoax, then the evidence and theories will not stand up to the controlled, adversarial environment of a courtroom. If the data simply isn’t there, then it will be illuminated, and litigants will not be able to win cases. If no damages are awarded, there will be no costs to pass on to the consumer, and market forces would the price of global warming insurance down to a negligible level.

What if global warming provides a net benefit?
If global warming is economically beneficial, then the people and companies who benefit can pay the damages with some of their profits, and still have money left over (If the damages are greater than the profits, then it isn’t really beneficial, is it?)

What if global warming is catastrophic?
If global warming is catastrophic, then the damages paid will be large, and energy prices for carbon-based energy will rise to the point where alternative energy sources become economical. By requiring companies to take out global warming insurance, the insurance companies then have an economic incentive to predict future catastrophes and raise their rates before the catastrophes eventuate. Because the damages are awarded on the basis of the amount of CO2 the defendants have produced, these defendants can limit their exposure by either removing carbon from the atmosphere, or by sourcing their carbon from biological sources.

Can you give an example of how this might work?
Joe Smith owns a ski resort in the Poconos (northeastern Pennsylvania). After a string of unusually warm winters, he finds it necessary to buy additional snowmaking equipment and shorten his season. So, he hires some slick NY eco-lawyer, and sues a variety of energy and petroleum companies. The companies agree to reimburse him for the lost revenue and additional equipment, and he goes back to work.

Alternatively, they have a big court fight, where he tries to prove that the recent warm spell is unprecedented over the past 300 years, that the globe is warming due to CO2 emissions, and that this, and not some other regional factor, is why the unprecedented warm winters have happened. If he can convince 12 jurors of this, he gets awarded damages. If he can’t make his case, he doesn’t get a cent.

What about nuclear, solar, and wind energy?
If global warming damages and insurance premiums cause the price of energy from fossil fuels to rise, then these other forms of energy might become economically viable. People living in states with free energy markets can then switch their plans from coal-based electricity to electricity from some other source. People living in other states would first need to tell their state legislators to get with the 21st century.
It might be worthwhile to require NIMBYs who delay the construction of carbonless power facilities to pay the carbon costs of the coal plants that they are keeping on-line, if a coal company does try to diversify its generation methods.
It is also worth mentioning that nuclear power could use an injection of free market libertarianism on its own. In the US, the nuclear waste disposal industry has been nationalized, and there are reams of federal regulations regarding nuclear plants that could be replaced with a more market-friendly solution. But that’s a whole different rant.

What about carbon sequestration?
If a company that has put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere predicts that this CO2 is going to cost them a lot of money down the track, they may decide that it is financially prudent to remove that CO2. That would be their business decision, since it is their CO2.

What about the Kyoto Treaty?
What about it? Actually, it hasn’t been as completely useless as most people commonly believe. Even if it was rejected 97-0, it did have some positive aspects. For example, it spurred a lot of research into how to keep track of carbon emissions, sequestration, and trading. This how-to knowledge will be useful for keeping track of carbon, if companies with CO2 exposure try to sequester their liabilities or sell them to brokers. As for the national limits? Well, no-one is stopping foreign countries from making deals amongst themselves. They can do whatever they want.

Why should foreigners be allowed to sue US companies in US courts?
Because our court system is better than theirs is. Seriously, though. The US has one of the best legal systems around. The more people who use it, the more likely they are to realize the merits of participatory democracy, take the systems home, and reform whatever corrupt regime it is under which they currently suffer. If they can’t use our courts, they’d probably set up some sort of suspect inferior tribunal of their own, so why not let the seek justice where it is most likely to be meted out fairly and impartially.

What about my evil scheme to use global warming as the dire threat needed to justify my Socialist Revolution and New World Order?
Sorry, you’ll have to piggyback your evil schemes off of some other cause. Try animal rights. Or gay boy scouts getting married in Catholic churches. Or the fluoridation of our precious bodily fluids.


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