How Libertarians Can Be Hypocrites When It Comes to the Environment
There’s a gaping problem with the current libertarian movement: Environmental protection. Maybe it is a holdover from modern conservatism. But libertarians usually fight legislative environmental protection.
Just like conservatives, they try to argue that climate change/global warming isn’t real. So, they believe environmental legislation is a scam put forward by liberals.
But not protecting the environment actually goes against the core principles of libertarianism.
Current Environmental Legislation Has
Serious Moral Problems, But…
That being said, the way our government currently operates is a problem.
The fact that the EPA can make unilateral regulations without congressional approval is troublesome. The EPA should not be allowed to make “regulations” without our representative vote. Often these “regulations” are, for all intents and purposes, laws.
Just like we shouldn’t allow the Federal Reserve to print money on their own.
The same goes for the FCC, FAA, TSA, and who knows who else. They shouldn’t be allowed to make new “regulations” without congressional approval.
As a citizen, my elected representative should have a say in all those decisions. Because those decisions often personally affect me and my life. This is the basis of the republican form of government.
Thus, we should not allow the EPA to operate as it currently is.
Still, libertarians should be environmentalists.
This Not About Global Warming,
It’s A Right’s Issue
I’m going to side-step the argument about whether climate change is real, and/or if it is man made.
I personally believe it is real, and that humans are contributing to it, if you wanted to know. But that does not affect why libertarians should be environmentalists.
From a rights perspective, protecting the environment should be a government issue.
If my neighbor tries to attack me, hurt me, or kill me, the government needs to protect me.
That is the cornerstone of modern law.
But for some reason, when the assault on my rights take the form of smoke, water contamination, and landfills, we want to look the other way.
In fact, we argue for the freedom to do these things.
“For some reason, when an assault on individual rights comes from smoke, water contamination, and landfills, we want to look the other way.”
Libertarians often fight against emission standards, water conservation laws, etc…
But it is a proven fact that smoke and smog is damaging to our bodies.
Pollution Can Be a Form of Physical Assault
I lived in Fresno, CA for 3 years. They have poor air quality. It’s primarily not their fault. Weather currents bring in much of the pollution from the Bay Area, other industrial centers, and even China. None-the-less, it is bad. In fact, doctors say children born and raised in that area will most likely develop a respiratory disorder.
This is just one example of how our impact on the environment have real effects on people. There are countless others. Water contamination. Soil contamination. Air contamination.
Even if you don’t believe in global warming, you can’t escape the fact that our environmental actions affect those around us.
If China was dropping bombs on California to cause respiratory damage, we would act. We would say that it is a violation of our rights as individuals. And we would support legislation to end China’s actions.
But when power plants, industrial centers, and automobiles do the same thing, we fight any legislation that wants to curb them.
Why? I don’t know.
Other people do not have the right to contaminate my air, water, and soil.
This clearly falls within the libertarian view of government: to protect the rights of individuals.
I understand our fight against government overreach. And as I already stated, we need to change how our government currently handles these issues. But this is a government issue.
And from an economics stand point, we need the government to step in as well.
The Government Has A Role To Play
Power plants, industrial centers, drivers, and homeowners need to feel the monetary impact of their actions.
But in most people’s construct of a free-market, this isn’t the case. In this view of the free market, we should allow power plants to pump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as they want.
Some people believe that the market would correct the matter. And maybe it would, but when? How many people have to die or live with preventable diseases and disorders before that happens?
And you can’t blame power plants and factories alone. Homeowners make those plants pump out huge amounts of CO2 by using ridiculous amounts of wasted energy.
Individuals cause those factories to contaminate water supplies by buying their products.
And those actions affect everyone. Especially those nearby.
This is an individual rights issue. And the government needs to be involved.
What does that look like? I’m not sure. I am leery of giving the government too much power in this area (in its current state).
I am an optimist and believe the best in people by default. But I also realize that people with impure motives use the government to hurt industries and companies they personally don’t like.
We don’t want that.
But at the same time, this is a governmental responsibility.
The government should protect land, water, and air. And to do it, it needs funding.
Not All Taxes Are Bad,
Some Are Good, Proper, and Necessary
So taxing the emissions of power plants and automobiles is a viable solution. If we tax power plants, those costs will be passed down to the consumer. But they should be.
If my rates increase, it means that I’m paying for my impact on the environment. And, thus, those around me.
The same goes for water usage. Many of our aquifers have been pumped beyond their recovery tipping point. Meaning we’re taking more water out than is coming in. And the ground in that area (that used to be full of water) is compacting.
This means that many aquifers will never refill. It is impossible for them to do so, even if we stopped pumping them.
If factories or farms are pumping so much water out of the ground that they restrict my access to water, then they need to be regulated. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that.
Now, their needs to be balance. We can’t go overboard and elevate the environment above the rights of individuals.
This is why these decisions need to be discussed in congress. That way we can (hopefully, in the ideal state of things) keep things balanced.
But that doesn’t change the fact that libertarians should support environmental protection.
Our Core Principles Require Us to Be Environmentalists
We should be the champions of recycling, renewable energy, and fuel efficiency. And just like President Obama said, we should want our companies to supply the world with the energy of the future.
That doesn’t mean that we should redistribute tax dollars to unviable energy companies. Or any companies for that matter. That is wrong. There are other ways to do it.
Yet, in the perfect government, environmental protection would be a high priority. Right along with the police, military, and the justice system…. because it is a rights issue.
If we are truly champions of individual rights, then we should support government action to protect the environment.
About Sean Edwards
Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.