How should we deal with Carbon?

From the comments to my last entry, it’s clear that there’s no consensus among libertarians/individualists about the problem of carbon emissions. And there’s a lot of opposition to any new taxes or government controls. The problem only seems to be getting worse. Even the Europeans are not fully meeting their Kyoto targets.

"Cap and trade" worked over the past 15-20 years to nearly get rid of the SO2-caused "acid rain" problem. I’m wondering if libertarians like this idea for carbon? What solutions should we support?

Comments (15 comments)

Francois Tremblay / January 10th, 2006, 10:43 pm / #1

Have you even checked what Kyoto is ASSUMED to be able to accomplish ? Even its supporters acknowledge that it will cost billions of dollars and millions of jobs, and do almost nothing !

Another thing is, have you checked your premises in regards to other related issues ? For example, the belief that IF humans are a sizable cause of global warming, then we HAVE to act in the short or medium term, instead of fostering the growth and propagation of future anti-pollution technology ?

Francois Tremblay / January 11th, 2006, 2:44 am / #2

You didn’t address any of my points.

And I never said I was “ignoring the problem”. My position is that insofar as a certain (not predominent, but non-trivial) proportion of global warming is caused by humans, it is best solved by, as I said, fostering the growth and propagation of future anti-pollution technology.

BlackSun / January 11th, 2006, 2:38 am / #3

Evidence for human caused climate change is becoming overwhelming.

Moreover, natural carbon sinks such as the oceans and plant life are becoming oversaturated, and will absorb less carbon in the future. This will accelerate the increases in atmospheric CO2.

Glaciers and other icepacks are melting at an unprecedented rate.

There is a legitimate concern that the ocean currents that protect the European climate may be in the process of weakening or shutting down. All these events could have unprecedented effects that may not be reversible at any cost.,,2087-1602579,00.html

Application of the principles of Natural Capitalism can result in solving these problems while INCREASING economic growth.

My main objective is to get the discussion started. We can’t just ignore the problem. Since climate change brings costs and difficulties that will be borne by all, shouldn’t we all cooperate in mitigation out of rational self-interest? If we assume that the research is even partially valid, what would be the proper and ethical response that would conform most closely to free-market principles?

Aaron Kinney / January 11th, 2006, 9:10 am / #4

I think the carbon emission problems needs addressing, but I dont think that government legislation is the answer.

In my mind, an answer would be found in one or more private organizations whose job was solely the study of air pollution. These organizations would be almost like “Consumer Reports” or a Credit Rating company. They would rate different machines, including automobiles, on their efficiency and clean-air operation in the same way that Consumer Reports presents findings on new product safety and capability and value.

Consumers could use these pollution reports to guide their purchases. Machine manufacturers, including automobile companies, would want to get the best product pollution rating possible as a selling point for their product.

Another idea that I kind of like is the pollution stock market, where an organization sells pollution shares out of a set-in-stone/finite amount of shares available each year. Companies can trade with eachother the shares for pollution rights, and each year the pollution organziation releases a smaller amount of shares for companies to split buy and trade, therefore reducing emissions over time. The only problem with this pollution shares market system that I can see is how does the controlling body acquire its rights to pollution amounts, and how does it set the standards?

Anyway, those are a few free market, non-governmental ideas for pollution reduction. I think the pollution shares idea is already being implemented in North America in some way.

Aaron Kinney / January 11th, 2006, 9:17 am / #5

I also think one major solution is technology. Lets put it this way: if a company can produce a car that consumes less fuel, consumers will want to buy it up for gas savings.

I dunno about you Blacksun, but Im seeing alot of hybrid Toyotas and Hondas on the roads today in Los Angeles.

And lets talk about non-automotive air pollution. Lots of the pollution out there is related to manufacturing and processing and power plant style machinery. Those types of things require different solutions than the automotive industry.

Manufacturing and power companies also need to invest in technology to produce more efficient machiens that use less fuel or use more renewable sources like water, wind, and the sun. Geothermal plants are very cool IMO, as well as hydroelectric dams and such. From what I hear, we still hae tons of stinky coal power plants and we should be moving away from that.

The Government is only a problem when it comes to making more efficient power plants. Thanks to governemtn regulations, it was almost impossible to make a new power plant in America in the last 30 years and that is the same problem that contributed to Californias energy crisis recently. But if power companies were free to make new plants and get rid of the 40 and 50 year old plants, we would all be in a buch better place.

From what Ive been told (Im too young to know firsthand), Los Angeles used to have much browner and stinkier skies back in the 70s. From what Ive been told by older people, the skies in SoCal are like 10 times bluer than what they were 30 years ago. So we must have been doing something good between then and now. We just got to keep the momentum going. Consumers are obviously ready for the next step, as we can see with all the Hybrid Priuses and Civic hybrids on the road.

BlackSun / January 11th, 2006, 12:01 pm / #6

I agree that consumer demand will for the most part move things in the direction of cleaner technologies. Aaron, you are correct that the air is MUCH cleaner in LA than it used to be. In 1980 when I first got my drivers license, driving down the big hill near Winnetka on the 101 was like driving into soup. You could see the brown in the valley, and some days you couldn’t even see the mountains. So progress has been made. I also recently bought a Prius. My next step was to go to

and purchase a carbon offset certificate for $29.95 so that my driving will be completely carbon neutral.

The Chicago Climate Exchange allows people and businesses to trade carbon allowances:

And other climate exchanges in Europe, Montreal, allow businesses to voluntarily participate.

But mostly what my post was about is how libertarians and individualists respond to problems that require collective effort. There are only a certain number of people and businesses who recognize the value of participating in carbon reduction programs. Many more people are content to simply drive and use electricity and pass along the externalities of their actions to the future. So this issue gets to the heart of the matter: How do we get through to such people without using government coercion?

Francois, I was not suggesting that YOU were ignoring the problem, only that others are. Therefore, I think some method needs to be derived to encourage/coerce people who don’t want to clean up after themselves to do so.

It’s the tragedy of the commons. As anyone who’s ever shared an apartment knows, the kitchen always stays dirty unless specific people are assigned to clean on specific days. Otherwise someone always figures out a way to cheat and leave a mess.

I think that businesses will begin to use clean technology to gain PR advantage. Such as the recent decision by Whole Foods Markets to switch to 100% wind power.

But I’m fairly certain that 80% of consumers think they still have the right to buy and drive the biggest most polluting vehicles they can afford, while ignoring the externalities. (This also goes for big houses and other polluting products.) That’s my question: How do we change this perception and close the loops before the environmental damage becomes irreversible?

Francois Tremblay / January 11th, 2006, 1:13 pm / #7

There is no such thing as “collective effort”. If you start from that premise then you’ll never find the solution.

BlackSun / January 11th, 2006, 1:49 pm / #8


This statement highlights a major weak point of libertarianism. I think we libertarians need to address this, because many “collective” problems we face involve shared responsibilities for society as a whole. We must come up with a philosophical framework that allows for the ethical apportioning of such costs, and we must be mature enough to realize that this may require a mechanism for enforcement. Not everything can be handled at the individual level. The fact that we avoid such discussions is one of the reasons why we remain marginalized as a political party.

Francois Tremblay / January 11th, 2006, 1:58 pm / #9

I don’t believe in any such thing as collective problems and shared responsibilities. You might as well tell me atheists need to figure out how to deal with God’s wrath.

I am a newly-minted anarchist, by the way, so I don’t believe that government has any role to play in any issue.

Francois Tremblay / January 11th, 2006, 10:09 pm / #10

You can’t just evade the issue by saying that my position is extreme. Do you have any evidence for what you’re saying or not ?

BlackSun / January 12th, 2006, 1:27 am / #11

I thought I stated a lot of evidence above about the carbon issue. But really that was just a point of departure to begin a discussion looking for an effective balance between individual and collective action. That is not an unreasonable position.

With regard to anarchy, show ME the evidence that such a thing could ever work. Haven’t you heard the old joke about the anarchist’s convention? No one showed up.

Francois Tremblay / January 12th, 2006, 2:23 am / #12

“collective action. That is not an unreasonable position.”

And yet you can provide no evidence that this collective exists ! You’re being unreasonable.

“With regard to anarchy, show ME the evidence that such a thing could ever work.”

Medieval Ireland and Iceland (for three centuries !), the Papuans, Labrador and pre-Alfred Anglo-Saxon England, present-day Somalia.

What were you saying again ?

BlackSun / January 12th, 2006, 11:39 am / #13

This will be the last comment from me on this subject.

Francois–I think you are very intelligent and I generally appreciate your contributions and particularly your well-reasoned blog entries. But on this point I think you are dead wrong, and I hope we can agree to disagree.

Freedom requires a certain structure. I can’t believe I’m hearing you advocate for returning to medieval values, or even romanticizing modern-day Somalia. You have no freaking clue. If you had to live under these conditions, you’d be begging for someone–anyone–to establish order, because you’d probably be starving. We are way too spoiled in the west to be making such pronouncements. Like fish who live in the sea but are unaware of the water, we take for granted the benefits that government provides. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We are wildly prosperous beyond the dreams of any medieval society, anarchist or otherwise–or modern-day Somalia.

We count on the government to establish standards. We like to know that when we buy a particular product, it has guaranteed quality and purity. We need a court system with rules, so businesses know that they can invest safely and things won’t suddenly turn on a dime. We need a police force–even Somalia has its warlords, which make up a de facto government.

Of course we want to minimize burdensome regulations, and state corruption. But the way to do that is not to disavow all government. For another example of the UTTER FAILURE of anarchy, look at Liberia, which went from a semi-prosperous quasi-democracy, to an anarchy run by drugged teenagers with AK-47’s in only 10 years. Their electricity and water stopped functioning, and GDP went to almost 0. People starved and were regularly gunned down in the streets.

Another example of anarchy run amok was Rwanda, where 800,000 people were hacked to death by machete in 1994. Bill Clinton has called his decision not to intervene in that debacle the worst failure of his presidency.

According to the BBC, even the Somalis desperately want a functioning government:

“But despite their success, the telecoms companies say that like the population at large, they are desperate to have a government.

Mogadishu’s phone engineers are going to be kept busy “We are very interested in paying taxes,” says Mr Abdullahi – not a sentiment which often passes the lips of a high-flying businessman.

And Mr Abdulkadir at the Global Internet Company fully agrees.

“We badly need a government,” he says. “Everything starts with security – the situation across the country.

“All the infrastructure of the country has collapsed – education, health and roads. We need to send our staff abroad for any training.”

Another problem for companies engaged in the global telecoms business is paying their foreign partners.

At present, they use Somalia’s traditional “Hawala” money transfer companies to get money to Dubai, the Middle East’s trading and financial hub.

With a government would come a central bank, which would make such transactions far easier.

Taxes would mean higher prices but Mr Abdullahi says that Somalia’s previous governments have kept taxes low and hopes this will continue under the regime due to start work in the coming months.

Somalia’s telecoms companies are looking forward to an even brighter future with the support of a functioning government – as long as it does not impose punitive tax rates or state control in a sector which obviously needs very little help to thrive.”


Also see:


Francois Tremblay / January 12th, 2006, 1:28 pm / #14

I am not advocating an absence of order-providing or standard-providing organizations, or the return to a medieval standard of life. You don’t get it at all. I don’t think you want to understand it.

You on the other hand have provided NO evidence for your belief in a collective or collective needs. You are being irrational on purpose. I don’t know why you feel the need to do that with me, and it makes me somewhat annoyed. Don’t you respect me at all ?

Nina / January 12th, 2006, 4:21 pm / #15

I am not really sure how our needs and responsibilities can be disassociated from the fact that we are all interdependent. We live on a common planet and we share our living space with many other people. The choices that I make do have consequences for the people around me, just like the choices that others make affect me. We breathe the same air, we eat from the same soil, and we depend on the same things to survive. Therefore, our needs and responsibilities are collective.

An Utopian world without rules and laws can only work for everyone once human nature and its inclination towards greed and exploitation has evolved beyond the need to subjugate others and enrich itself at the expense of others. Until then, we need laws and safeguards to protect our common needs for safety and survival.

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