"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
On Global Warming
Exclusive to STR
February 8, 2007
I have thought a lot about the questions raised by the recent United Nations report on global warming, and I don't know if I have a reply that will satisfy you, but I'll take my best shot.
First, no, I really don't have a ready reference I can steer you to about this issue. There are just so many issues that non-libertarians can use to challenge us and try to make us look like we don't have a well thought-out philosophy: 'Ok smart guy: an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. We have three days to live. How would your libertarian society handle that, hmmm?' In situations like these I often think of a statement Harry Browne made in Why Government Doesn't work. In dealing with seemingly intractable issues, he said (paraphrasing): 'I don't know how a libertarian society will handle (fill in the blank), but I do know that it will handle it better than government does!'
That having been said, let me address a few specifics. I would prefer to begin by accepting as fact that global warming is happening, that it is man's fault, and that all the dire predictions will come true. That doesn't mean that I do accept those premises, but by starting that, we completely bypass the 'It's real! It's not real!' argument.
If we accept that premise, then I would argue that the only sensible approach for mankind is to adopt a principled libertarian philosophy.
The predictions for our planet over the next century are dire to many national economies, low-elevation countries, and cities along the oceans. But is it dire for free individuals? It is my opinion that global warming is far more dangerous to nation-states, politicians and governments than it is to individuals if those individuals are free.
A recent U.S. Government report on global warming predicts the usual rising sea levels, coastal inundation, desertification of the heartland, and all those other things that the media is keying on, but also predicts a longer growing season in more Northern climes (such as the Canadian wheat belt) and cheaper and more abundant food production in areas that are now marginally productive.
A snippet from the report:
Effects of climate variability and change on US agriculture will depend critically on changes in agricultural productivity elsewhere, which can shift international patterns of food supply and demand. Climate-induced changes in water resources available for power generation, transportation, cities and agriculture are likely to raise potentially delicate diplomatic issues with both Canada and Mexico .
Note that the issue isn't that mankind won't have food, water and power. The issue is that it may be coming from somewhere else. The point here is that global warming is not a harbinger of death and destruction to the human race. But it may be the harbinger of destruction to certain governments' ability to confiscate wealth from within its borders.
That's not to say that there won't be tumultuous effects if the global warming pundits are right. There will be huge effects. The world will be much different in 50 or 100 years than it is now. But human beings are very adaptable, and free humans in a free market will adapt, and profit, quite readily under almost any circumstance.
The major problems will be with governments who restrict or prevent free migration from the places that are no longer productive to those places that become productive. You see, you as an individual can go wherever the opportunities are. Governments can't. With global warming, there are as many opportunities for individuals as there are threats. But governments can't up and follow opportunities, so there are just threats. The problems will arise from governments who see their nations' GDP threatened and their income stream threatened and will be willing to do anything to try to forestall the inevitable losses. They will spend mountains of money on sea walls, levees and pumps to protect coastal cities at the expense of people who don't live near the sea. They will enact legislation to force businesses to do all sorts of dubious things that will lead to more expensive products or drive them out of business. They will crack down on individual freedom: freedom of movement, freedom of markets. They will enter into all sorts of treaties and agreements with other governments, the outcome of which will be that those governments will continue to maintain their power and income as long as possible at the expense of individuals who get more limited, coerced, and subjugated. All this in the name of a 'War on Global Warming.'
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this outcome. I'm not one. It doesn't take a conspiracy for all this to happen. It's just the inevitable outcome of the way governments work.
There are no McDonald's in Antarctica . But you can bet that the moment Antarctica becomes comfortably habitable, there'll be a franchise there. Maybe it'll be run by someone who used to have one in Wichita before Wichita became an uninhabitable desert. We as individuals will make out fine, as long as we have the freedoms and rights that libertarians hold dear. The market will seek out and capitalize on the opportunities created. And it'll do it long before governments know what happened. All we need do is respect the natural rights of others and not hold to old fashioned notions of Nation-State and government, and seek out the opportunities presented us. Unfortunately, as things change and more UN reports come out, governments all over the world will do everything in their power to keep us from doing that.
There's your rebuttal to those who think we need government to protect us from Global Warming.