Climate change and libertarianism

Late last year I received an email containing an article by Skeptic Magazine’s Michael Shermer. Here was another free market advocate, and someone with a strong grounding in science, stepping into the climate change debate on the side of less action. I did not expect more from Shermer as Shermer is not alone. He is joined by the likes of Matt Ridley and almost every libertarian think tank, who also tend to attack the basic science.

This creates a problem. The continued advocacy of no action by libertarian minded people, particularly those with a strong grounding in science, leaves a large gap in the climate change debate. There is almost no one proposing solutions to climate change in the way that maximises freedom and gives the greatest incentive and opportunity to markets, but also addresses the problem and the clearly identified risks of climate change. We have a debate between climate change deniers and do-nothing advocates on one side, and on the other side, advocates of often quite intrusive and government centred responses to climate change. Since the climate change campaigners have science on their side, their victory in that debate could have far-reaching consequences for the role of government and the cost of the response. (On quick bright note, here is one idea from John Humphreys of the CIS).

And that is the challenge that I would like to see more libertarian minded people take up. What is the method of dealing with climate change that best preserves liberty? If no-one pushes for those types of solutions, climate change solutions will be implemented but in a way that is far more in intrusive and expensive than need be.

2 comments

  1. Hi Jason. (jumped here from http://www.jasoncollins.org/2013/09/silvers-the-signal-and-the-noise/)

    I think there are possible activist angles along many different threads of libertarianism:

    * For the localist/survivalist types there is the idea of promoting self and community resilience to environmental change.. militia-style rapid response to natural disasters, disaster preparation, etc

    * For the market / entrepreneurial types there could be a push for more private sector solutions to energy diversification, agricultural biotech, energy efficiency, etc.

    * For fiscal hawks, targeting public sector CO2 emissions, especially that of the US military, which is one of the world’s leading sources of emissions, could be a very effective political argument to make.

    I think the key is altering the predominant message from “the sky is falling, we need immediate centralized planning” to “the alarmists probably jumped the gun, but climates do change and in the face of such change natural libertarian values such as self-reliance, innovation, and limited government can and should lead policy thinking”.

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