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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6877/the-green-economics-of-gore/

The Green Economics of Gore

July 19, 2007 by

Please note that I do not subscribe to the panicked cries of human-induced, carbon-based global warming. But, just for fun, let’s assume that the cries are indeed true.

Ever since Mises exposed the negative effects of government interventions, politicians, bureaucrats, and most economists have attempted to refute those truths. A leading fallacy still driving debates and discussions is the one which implies that government can borrow goods from the future in order to satisfy its current demand. That simply cannot happen.

Government can purchase current goods based on the sale of bonds; a sale that will be reconciled at a later date in the form of wealth transfers from taxpayers to bondholders.[1] But, since we can only utilize current goods, and never future goods, our heirs can never produce the materials required today. They can suffer from the mess created by government projects, but never assist with the efforts.[2]

Oddly enough, the Greens have adopted a similar lie; a lie which states we can remove current carbon gases today with yet-to-be-planted, and hence future, trees.

Let’s consider the most visible Green: Al Gore. Being the concerned do-gooder and useful idiot of the enviro-utopians, Gore has adopted the so-called carbon-neutral lifestyle. In order to claim carbon neutrality, Gore offsets his daily carbon emissions by, among other things, paying to have trees planted.

That sounds worthwhile, at least until you consider that Gore produces tons of carbon gases on a yearly basis; gases that may be consumed by his newly-planted trees in a decade or so when, and only if, the saplings reach maturity. His carbon-offset strategy functions more like the spin surrounding government bonds than the implied real-time carbon scrubbers envisioned by his infected masses.

Even though Gore cries that we must act now — with every passing day another nail in our carbon coffin — his actions will not produce the immediate results he claims are required to save the planet.

Of course, the only way to satisfy the enviro-utopian agenda — and hence save the Earth — is for all of us to stop the production of man-made, carbon-based gases, right now, today, and lie down in the fields to await certain death. But, that solution is not Gore’s solution.

Gore is a statist looking for ways to centralize and increase the power of government. To him, playing the carbon-neutral game is simply a means to chain the world to the socialist policies of command and control. Of course, that would mean that the statists such as Gore are playing the enviro-utopians for fools, with the enviro-utopians being the useful idiots of the statist crowd.

Actually, it seems like both groups are playing each other in a race to either destroy civilization now, or socialize it into a slow death. The end is the same, with only the means being different – different time-horizons I assume.


[1] Of course, “will be reconciled” is a fallacy. Government debt is never truly paid as new bonds are issued to settle bonds reaching maturity. The end result is a continuous payment of interest; a wealth transfer from taxpayers to bondholders.

[2] Our heirs never actually pay for current government expenditures in a true sense. Current government expenditures are satisfied through the sale of bonds. The bondholder has paid for the expenditures in order to reap long-term interest transfers from taxpayers.


TokyoTom July 19, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Jim, thanks for your post. Assuming arguendo that there is indeed a real scientific basis for concern about climate change is a useful start, but from there your discussion is disappointingly shallow – you (i) refuse to address the big picture of the underlying absence of property rights (and thus wealth-creating private market transactions) in the atmosphere, (ii) and sidestep whether Gore’s personal offsets may still be marginally beneficial towards lowering his carbon footprint, and (iii) posit strawmen/fallacies that the only way to abate climate change is to cease all use of fossil fuels (ignoring other energy sources, carbon sequestration and capture, and negative forcings like Dr. Reisman’s open-air atom bomb proposals) and that internalizing external costs will necessarily lead to a collapse of civilization.

Do you care to address any of these, or do you think the important analysis ends in dismissing Gore (and enviros) as idiots and statists? By all means also ignore the Nobel prize-winning scientists and economists, etc. who also are concerned.

On a recent post by Dr. Reisman, I posted a few comments that refer to analysis by Lugwig von Mises and Bruce Yandle. http://blog.mises.org/mt/comments?entry_id=6808

Pending further discussion by Prof. Reisman, would you perhaps care to flesh out your own analysis?

TLWP Sam July 20, 2007 at 1:04 am

To reverse the onus of proof to you, T. Tom, why are you presuming Global Warming will be the end of life as we know it?

Here a link to Aussie Professor of Geology Ian Plimer as to the future if Global Warming is true:


As he points out warmer climate changes have led to improvements in standards of living and climate cooling has led to human suffering and misery.

ktibuk July 20, 2007 at 4:02 am

Doesn’t matter if the earth warms or cools, and this is good or bad.

The point here is “the impact” that humans create on nature.

To the socialist, humans trying to rise above of the nature, to tame it is a deadly sin. Humans at all times must be at the mercy of the natural forces. I am sure they even feel joy of pay back from the natural disasters that hit once ina while like hurricanes and earth quakes. So that they can talk about the arrogance of men.

Caveman with a life expectancy of 20 years were the real happy people not us.

P.M.Lawrence July 20, 2007 at 6:41 am

‘Of course, “will be reconciled” is a fallacy. Government debt is never truly paid as new bonds are issued to settle bonds reaching maturity. The end result is a continuous payment of interest; a wealth transfer from taxpayers to bondholders.’

This is a generalisation that is a fairly accurate observation, but it isn’t an absolute truth. Rather like the practical but non-theoretical problems with Real Bills Theory that are being discussed in an earlier post, this generalisation isn’t based on any inherent feature of the debt but rather on the feet of clay of governments.

But there is more. Government debts can in theory – and very occasionally actually have been – retired by the use of Sinking Funds. And they have quite often been eliminated by overt or concealed repudiation, for instance as caused by inflation (I think it was Calvin Coolidge who said “inflation is repudiation”).

That last point shows something that is actually false in the original statement: “…a wealth transfer from taxpayers to bondholders”. With repudiation there is quite clearly a net wealth transfer away from bondholders. Then the gainers are the rent seekers hidden behind whatever the government spent the bondholders’ money on, public servants and contractors and the like. When there is no repudiation, the result is a net wealth transfer from taxpayers to these rent seekers, not to the bondholders. The original formulation forgot that bondholders gave something up in the first place. (For the sake of simplicity I am ignoring any overlap between the sets taxpayers, bondholders and rent seekers.)

David White July 20, 2007 at 8:39 am


As Gore is quoted here — http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/07/19/2625 — “It’s going to take a 90-percent decrease in carbon emissions from developed fossil fuel guzzlers like the U.S. …”

Please explain to me how this can be accomplished without ending civilization as we know it and returning to a level of development on a par with, say, Bangladesh.

Mathieu Bédard July 20, 2007 at 8:49 am


I’m pretty sure the carbon emission per capita of Bangladesh is alot superior to 10% of Americans. Uncivilized tribes in Guinea are probably closer to what Gore has in mind.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 20, 2007 at 9:27 am


“(i) refuse to address the big picture of the underlying absence of property rights (and thus wealth-creating private market transactions) in the atmosphere,”

It is easy to criticize. I’d like to see you address this issue with positive and substantive suggestions.

Raymond Wallner July 20, 2007 at 11:49 am

Actually, what’s really interesting about the Green’s is that most of them are anti-capitalist and anti-rich, which means it is really hard to understand why they are getting so hopped up about global warming. Since, if there is global warming occurring, the real change to the earth will be a rise in the sea level. Which will wipe out homes and property for those on the shoreline and near shoreline.

Last I looked (certainly in the U.S. and true for almost the rest of the world) shoreline property is owned by the rich.

So the whole “Stop the Global Warming” campaign is really a “Protect the Shorelines of the Rich” campaign.

TokyoTom July 21, 2007 at 2:27 am

Jim, allow me to add a couple of further comments, related to your concern about “borrow[ing] goods from the future in order to satisfy its current demand”.

By accusing the Greens of “adopting a similar lie” you do not merely fall short of the mark, but you are actually aiming in the wrong direction.

If, as scientists warn, mankind’s economic activities are having unintended negative effects on climate and are imposing net costs, direct (via losses to private/public assets and adaptation costs) and indirect (via damage to public goods – such as healthy and productive oceans and forests), these are externalities, the costs of which none of us is required to factor into our individual/enterprise behavior. This is basic. Consequently, the lack of a feedback mechanism results effectively in a global subsidy to climate-changing economic activity. This can also be seen as a wealth transfer from those who are privately adversely affected and from all of us with respect to degraded, to those who contribute most to climate-changing economic activity.

Surely you can see these externalities (and can see that until now they have been partly bought and paid for through our domestic political system)? This is analogous to P.M. Lawrence’s comment that, as to taxpayers and bondholders, the real problem is the net wealth transfer from taxpayers to rent seekers who benefit from government expenditures.

While there are real costs to changing institutional frameworks (property rights ecy.) to end tragedy of the commons situations, in the meanwhile there are real costs that are mounting, costs that we cannot expect to go away if we do nothing. When will the actual and prospective costs be sufficient to warrant action, and what form should that action take? These are serious questions that deserve serious consideration, and for which Austrian economics and libertarianism presumably have something worthwhile to say.

Why do you instead focus simply on attacking simply one of the messengers, for the supposed failure of not acting even further outside of his own economic self-interest by incurring even greater GHG abatement costs, when our current institutions require none? Must those who point to externality problems all wear hairshirts before we can acknowledge they have something worthwhile to say? In order to point out that tuna and other fish stocks are crashing due to over fishing resulting from lack of effective property rights, must I first forego all sushi and other fish? Except to the extent that taking consistent moral positions may result in institutional change, I believe that we can all recognize they more often simply result in unilateral self-disadvantage, while leaving others free to exploit the commons.

In addition, I find it doubly ironic that Austrians, who are presumably against statist solutions to externality problems, not only prefer to dodge the fundamental underlying problems but also somehow forget that at least the attempts at education, moral suasion and voluntary efforts by Gore, religious leaders, individuals and many corporations are traditional – and from an Austrian view perfectly acceptable – means of finding non-statist voluntary/community solutions to shared problems. And as Yandle and others have pointed out, it is by confronting directly and resolving tragedy of the commons problems that we can move beyond unsustainable exploitation of shared resources to wealth-creating transactions.

Are there any Miseseans who care to contribute to the effort, or only the ideologically suspect and unclean like me?



ktibuk July 21, 2007 at 4:10 am

I have been reading TokyoToms posts in these enviroment subjects and I find him intellectually dishonest.

But I will say this.

Everybody here knows the problem is lack of property rigths when it comes to enviroment problems.

Right now some parts of the world are semi private (taxed and regulated so not really private) and most are in the states hands and some are unowned.

And almost all enviromentalists want is to shrink the already small private domain and enlarge the public domain.

This is being done by the oldest method of scaring the ignorant.

And of course you will get a reaction from libertarians to this watermelon tactics.

Anthony July 21, 2007 at 5:11 am

TT has a valid point insofar as Austrians have much to contribute on this topic (and indeed have done so in the past.) However, this is not mutually exclusive with questioning the anthropogenic hypothesis. Many feel it is bad science. Perhaps it is. By making positive suggestions to fix the problem we are not saying it exists; we are saying what could be done IF it exists.

TokyoTom July 21, 2007 at 6:48 am


“It is easy to criticize. I’d like to see you address this issue with positive and substantive suggestions.”

Thanks for the implicit (though critical) support, as well as the invitation. Actually, I think thoughtful criticism has its place, and I look forward to you taking up the same challenge that you present to me.

I suspect you could do an even better job, as you must be less “intellectually dishonest” and ideologically more pure than me.


Enviro (misanthropic) Tom

Jim July 21, 2007 at 8:09 am


Take a breath and relax for a second.

You missed the point of the post. IF human-induced global warming is fact, THEN Gore’s solution is worthless.

This point is similar to a Daily Article I wrote regarding kindergarten as a quick fix to a failing economy. Those who advocate for mandatory, all-day kindergarten claim that the state’s economy will get a big boost. Such a program would turn around a rustbelt state such as Ohio.

Once again: IF all-day kindergarten is beneficial, THEN nothing beneficial could happen for 20 to 25 years. Remember, kindergartners are NOT in the economy, and will not be so until they graduate years down the road.

Yet, politicians — the statist class — will prove that their vote on mandatory, all-day kindergarten improved the economy in the short-term. And, they will have studies to show that they are right. But, to believe that the economy would get a boost tomorrow from mandatory, all-day kindergarten instituted today is to refute the science of economics.

Planting saplings does not do what Gore claims it will do. Could I claim carbon-neutrality if I regularly gave $10 to the National Arbor Day Foundation in exchange for 10 saplings, which I then planted (stuck) in the ground without water or nutrients? I don’t think that you would find any reduction in my carbon footprint based on this exercise.

The conclusion of my post is that either Gore is a fool or he is a liar. Take your pick.

And, yes, the enviro-utopians do advocate for a carbonless Garden of Eden. The difference between their garden and that found in the Bible is that the enviro-utopians do not care if even Adam and Eve are there, the less humans the better.

To your point on property rights: I agree that strong property rights are essential to Freedom. And, that property rights can reduce externalities. I use can because property rights would not enforce externalities that are figments of ones imagination.

Example: Assume I am your neighbor, and that I have a shortwave radio. Further assume that you believe that the shortwaves emanating from my radio are the cause of an illness — real or perceived — from which you suffer. You then appeal to the courts for enforcement of property rights and either a means to stop my shortwaves from invading your property, or a halt to my use of the radio.

The courts should not rule in your favor. Yes, you perceive a violation, yet none exists.

IF carbon gases are not the cause of global warming (my belief), THEN enforceable property rights will not do what you want them to do.

But, yes, I do agree that stronger property rights would go a long way to improving our economy. But, to many, property rights are a grant from the state which can be revoke at will.

Keep in mind that over the last century or so, the courts moved from property rights to community rights. They adopted the positive right of the community — whatever that aggregation really is — to hold power over my property. There was the grant to pollute if the polution benefited the community at-large. Then there is my favorite, the creation of places of public convenience, where the community — again, whatever that is — gets to control your property simply because you open you door for sales, etc.

In conclusion, you can browbeat me with your views all you want, but you are not going to change my viewpoint on global warming. Michael Crichton noted in his State of Fear video that the issues that were dire 30 years ago no longer exist.

TT, Your carbon nightmare shall also pass. Relax, rejuvenate, and join the fight for, at minimum, the preservation of the rights we currently enjoy, and, at best, the fight for the rights that are ours by logic and the Bible. The nightmare of reduced rights, greater state interventions, is real, and it is evil.

ktibuk July 21, 2007 at 11:32 am

Every square inch of every land and ocean should be privatized (by whichever organized crime outfit currently owning it), without being taxed or regulated.

There is your solution to everthing including ending poverty, hunger, and yes enviromental problems.

There, so easy.

Mark Humphrey July 21, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Big thanks to Jim for his article, and his interesting post. Thanks also to Ktibuk for his prescient observation that a central objective of the Green movement is to destroy property rights, rather than uphold them for the purpose of reducing pollution.

Tom, there are big logical problems with your idea that property rights should be extended into the atmosphere, so that the State might enforce some arbitary atmospheric condition, thereby protecting individual “rights” to some imaginary climatic outcome.

First, for a plaintiff to successfully prosecute for damages from some invasion of his property, the plaintiff must prove that the invasion caused damage. You’re sold on the idea that man’s carbon output has altered the course of climatic history, but the evidence you could muster in court wouldn’t persuade a rational judge and jury. With all due respect, read “The Chilling Stars” by Svensmark and Calder, which proves that fluctuations in cosmic rays entering our lower atmosphere are the primary influence on fluctuations in warming and cooling, and probably account for major ice ages and major warming intervals.

Second, to sue a company or an individual for damages, one must prove that the defendant is responsible for more than negligable economic harm. Clearly, the impact caused by some individual driving his car and heating his home would fall well under the standard of negligable damage; so far under, in fact, as to merit the description of zero damage. The oil companies don’t actually burn much fuel; they explore, extract and refine it. Too bad; they’re such an inviting target for slavering trial lawyers. Most likely, the contribution of any individual or company to alterations in c02 levels in the atmosphere is much too small to merit suing.

Third, if some unfortunate firm were singled out for legal abuse, a rational solution awaits. In a free society–which is presumeably the political condition we’re all cheering for here–individuals and companies, singly or IN COMBINATION would be FREE to boycott trouble-making green organizations and their trial lawyer pals. Tired of getting harrassed and damaged by some greasy ambulance-chaser backed by Greenpeace or PETA? Turn off his electricity! Refuse to sell him hydrogen for his fuel-cell powered mini-car. Kick his kids out of day care! Kumbaya!!

Fourth, since the contribution of any firm to “climate change” is probably infinitesimal (but only if we forget, momentarily, that it is actually non-existent), then we ought to treat any anthropological alterations in the atmospheric levels of C02, or of other atmospheric gases, as natural changes. For the changes would actually be an outgrowth of nature–of man’s natural push to create, to produce, and to build a glittering civilization.

Anthony July 21, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Good points Mr Humphrey.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 21, 2007 at 6:02 pm

I agree with Mark Humphrey’s criticisms of Tom’s “solution.”

There are other problems with extending property rights into the atmosphere. These have already been dealt with in the Austro-libertarian literature, however, which Tom is encouraged to research.

As I wrote to Tom in an email reply: “even if there is no good property-rights means of directly reducing anthropogenic climate forcings (insofar as individual contributions don’t clearly and directly entail violation of anyone’s property rights), this approach is still better for indirectly reducing said forcings, i.e., through greater economic and technological progress.”

Tom’s “solution” would require the impossible, viz., that (1) clear and unambiguous damage to someone’s private property that would satisfy a court of law (2) be traced back to clearly identified, particular aggressors. With some aspects of climate forcings such as soot on someone’s roof or yard, this may be possible. With the current bugaboo, GHGs, this is impossible on both counts.

Another consideration is that Tom’s “solution” would require the central planning and enforcing capabilities of a strong state. That’s not very libertarian.

Elsewhere Tom seems to advocate a carbon tax. Also not libertarian.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 21, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Oops…that quote of mine needs to be put in context.

Here is the whole paragraph:

“I also hope that as a libertarian you are against a lesser degree of statism, against statist policies in general. Otherwise, you wouldn’t really be a libertarian, now would you? The best way to deal with environmental problems, in my mind, including anthropogenic global warming, is with a combination of truly free markets (with all that implies) and a libertarian environmentalist persuasion campaign. Anything less would be uncivilized. Keeping in mind, of course, that not everyone is going to care about the same issues or grant them the same importance as you do. This approach has a number of advantages, both moral and practical. The practical side itself has two advantages: 1) it will better enable people (rich and especially poor) to adapt and 2) it will in all likelihood lead (on the whole) to more environmentally friendly practices and technologies than a statist approach (the more statist the bigger the difference). Thus, even if there is no good property-rights means of directly reducing anthropogenic climate forcings (insofar as individual contributions don’t clearly and directly entail violation of anyone’s property rights), this approach is still better for indirectly reducing said forcings, i.e., through greater economic and technological progress.”

Tom read this before writing his proposed solution above.

Mark Humphrey July 21, 2007 at 8:06 pm

There is still another major problem with Tom’s proposal to delineate private property rights in the atmosphere.

Property rights require that the homesteader mix his labor/property with the element he intends to claim as his own. To homestead unclaimed land, one must define its boundaries and place it in productive service of some kind. It won’t do for me to simply claim the moon of Saturn as my private property, because my claim would have no meaning. I don’t use the moon of Saturn, and so it is not an extension of my life and livelihood, as private property properly is.

Similarly, to homestead an unclaimed lake, or section of the ocean, one must do something with the resource to perfect one’s claim to it. One might devote the lake to private bass fishing excursions or fee-based recreational outings. One might mine for minerals under the sea, or fish for tuna and mackeral, or develope new products from various forms of sea life.

But to claim ownership of some unclaimed resource for no purpose other than to exclude others in the future from devoting it to use isn’t homesteading; it’s empire building.

Now let’s assume that some destructive climatic trend does take hold. Perhaps anthropological global warming results from trillions of tiny man-made impacts that can be rationally viewed as natural change; or perhaps an increase in gamma rays tips the world into serious cooling that threatens starvation. In this case, large companies could legitimately homestead portions of the atmosphere for the purpose of preserving their investment in various productive ventures down below. Big agri-business could team up with oil companiesand mining companies, for example, to set off processes in the atmosphere that would neutralize the electrical charge of incoming gamma rays, thereby rendering them ineffective in seeding new cooling cloud cover. Or the same companies might homstead big tracts of the ocean, into which they could dump iron for the purpose of consuming CO2.

I don’t have time now to describe how man’s seeking to alter the forces of nature in ways that bring more benevolent climatic conditions squares with individual rights. But, having thought about this a little, I am pretty sure there is no fundamental problem here.

Anthony July 21, 2007 at 8:57 pm

“and a libertarian environmentalist persuasion campaign.”

This is quite significant, IMO. If consumers are convinced that green = good, companies will be motivated (out of pure self-interest) to accommodate this new demand. This cannot be emphasized enough.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 1:46 am

David White:

“Please explain to me how this can be accomplished without ending civilization”.

Obviously there are some long lead times in shifting energy systems and use patterns, but I always thought that markets response to pricing and other market signals. Peak oil will alone eventually require migration, and supply and demand factors continally to lead to energy effciency improvements and alternative sources.

My simple point is that if indeed human economic activities are indeed creating significant externalities, then we should be paying attention to that problem, and if there are long lead times, then it pays to get started, right?

Of course we can’t turn on a dime, and what measures we take now to slow climate change will themselves have an impact over decades and centuries. Accordingly, those in the informed debate also understand that we have a very significant task in just adapting to climate change that is now unavoidable (and imposing real costs now in terms of greater evaporation and sudden weather events, regional drying and fires, etc.)

Even without doing anything to mitigate (by figuring out how to lower GHG emissions, capture carbon or other means to try to counterbalance out climate impact) we have quite a bit of work to do.

It is because that energy producers and major corporations are aware of these problems (what the science looks like and the long lead times and planning for capital investments) that they are both undertaking voluntary efforts and supporting a positive government role now – rather more sudden, harsher measures later.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 2:06 am

ktibuk, thanks for your service to the blog by warning them about what you see as my intellectual dishonesty. For my own benefit, would you be so kind as to spell it out? I may not be either consistent or successful at the task, but I at least tell myself that I continually STRIVE to think more clearly.

In addition, I think it is interesting to note that even while you state that “everybody here knows the problem is lack of property rigths when it comes to enviroment problems” and fairly observe that many enviromentalists want “to shrink the already small private domain and enlarge the public domain”, both you and others here essentially bolster their “watermelon tactics” by refusing either to actually acknowledge that a problem may exist or to suggest ways that the supposed problem can be resolved in a manner most conducive to liberty.

Throwing up one’s hands while simply mocking and criticising those who proffer solutions that you find undesirable is hardly a way to be taken seriously.

Sorry, my intellectual dishonesty compels me to say that.

ktibuk July 22, 2007 at 2:39 am

“actually acknowledge that a problem may exist or to suggest ways that the supposed problem can be resolved in a manner most conducive to liberty.”

Nobody needs to acknowledge an enviromental problem or global warming.

Libertarians already strive to live in a world where everything is someones property, meaning everyone is free.

Maybe you are not aware but human beings are being murdered everyday, a lot of them starve anda almost all of them live under bondage.

And solution to these problems is the solution to your hobby.

So don’t sweat it.

Don’t try to be cute and gain respect for a socialist cause by using Austrian economics and libertarian terminology.

In all these posts all you try to do is tryin to bash the people who are on to the socialist root of enviromentalism without suggesting one (1) sollution yourself.

And that is why sir you are intellectually dishonest.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 3:01 am

Jim, many thanks for your response. I am happy to see several points of agreement, despite vital differences.

First, to be clear, I have NOT tried above to browbeat you into believing that climate change is a real problem. Rather, I took as a basis for discussion your arguendo premise that AGW is a problem and challenged what I consider to be your rather shallow analysis. Now, a substantial portion of your response is dedicated to moving the goalposts by denying your own premises and to professing your belief that AGW isn’t a problem – fine, but that doesn’t buttress your arguments or respond to my comments. On the science, I imagine my willingness to discuss it has not gone unnoticed, but it is offthread for this discussion.

Second, as for Gore, let’s be clear – you initially challenged whether Gore’s personal expenses to be “carbon-neutral” are actually effective in offsetting his personal AGW forcing contributions, but now you are arging that “Gore’s solution is worthless”. Surely you don’t intend to confuse Gore’s personal efforts to be carbon-neutral with his or other’s policy proposals to address climate change? Gore is not remotely suggesting that voluntary individual efforts will be up to the task – but it is ironic that as an Austrian you choose to mock his individual effort rather than to suggest how it should be encouraged or made more effective. In this context, I stand by my earlier comments (which you have not addressed) that the proper measure is one of marginal change, particularly as in the absence of any legal or market imperative, Gore’s efforts are costs that are against his economic interests. Nor is he required to fully offset or decouple from the grid simply to set an example, which is the purpose of his “carnon-neutral” behavior. As an aside, let me further note that you have not made an effort to explain to us what Gore’s precise offsets anyway, so your criticisms for now appear to be mere supposition.

Third, I agree with you that strong property rights are essential to freedom and can reduce externalities – and that property rights have been eroded by our governments, frequently in the name of community interest but in large part to benefit rent-seekers. I agree the the state and rent-seeking by elites are ever-present threats, but this is nothing new, but rather the story of history and we need to be always vigilant.

That makes dealing with something like climate change especially diffiult, though I would point out that (i) established rent-seekers who successfully manipulated courts to undermine property rights are the same ones who have blocked action (other than research and info gahering) on climate change and (ii) at an international level there simply is no state, so negotiations have to produce agreements voluntarily reached by independent actors – thus dampening rent-seeking and more resembling classic negotiations among users of a respurce pool.

But rather than discussing difficulties in the context of your desire for strong property rights, you fail to discuss property rights or other non-statist approaches at all. If climate change is too big a piece to bite off and chew, perhaps you’d care to discuss other environmental issues that you might concede ARE real, such as crashing fisheries? Or is it better to be irrelevant, out of fear that trying to be constructive will only serve to promote the state?



TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 3:27 am

Mark, I thine you’ve capably addressed some of the reasons why the common law and property rights have to dat been ineffective tools for addressing climate change. One point missing from your analysis is how the capture of the common law that undercut privtate property in favor of industry and how the resulting federal and state environmental laws/regs have also been used by industry as licenses to pollute and to stifle competition. If private property rights had been fully enforced at common law, we would have seen cearer skies at lower costs, and probably much further along the path of developing mechanisms to sue for climate change.

Your conclusion that we ought to treat our role in climate change as “natural” is the similar argument for irresponsibility and willful denial that Dr. Reisman made more than a year ago. As we build our “glittering civilization”, shall we ignore all the failures of our predecessors, and write off as “natural” our destruction of open-access resources, simply because we couldn’t be bothered establish some type of property rights or other shared mechanism to avoid destructive gluttony – and ignore what Yandle and others say about avoiding the tragedy of the commons?

So much better to avoid any hard work and pretend that, as we wipe out great ocean fisheries, bison, whales and the like, or even bumblingly changing the climate, we are either engaged in a purely natural phenomenon or perhaps even being virtuous!

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 4:02 am

It seems that Geoffrey – who prefers not to engage me directly but to address me in the third person as being ideologically suspect – has, afer doing a further review of my Mises posts, fallen into the same position he upthread suggested I was in: that of critising by others without offering one’s own suggestions.

Perhaps Geoffrey may note that another poster suggests that this is the very definition of intellectual dishonesty. Even as I would disagree with such a definition and defend as perfectly fair the practice of directly addressing arguments that others make, I would encourage Geoffrey, as the blog’s resident climate science expert and as a “pure” libertarian, to offer his own suggestions in a post that would acknowledge and address the tragedy of the commons aspects of the problem.

Perhaps a good start domestically would be, as I have suggested on a number of occasions and most recently at the post Geoffrey links to abvove, to promote greater efficiency and adaptation by eliminating the complete set of costly and inflexible federal environmental regulations and move back to state common law protections against trespass and nuisance (with the caveat that I would also favor aggressive veil-piercing if corporate assets and capital prove insufficient to cover liabilities). There are also any number of cooperative ventures underway that I have brought attentino to before.

Alien Tom

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 6:20 am

TLWP Sam, you and others might find the ABC Australia interview of Martin Durkin of “Swindle” fame to be interesting. It is linked to here:


Dennis July 22, 2007 at 6:53 am

Since property rights are a major issue in the AGW debate, why not take a broader, more inclusive view of these rights? Several weeks ago, I proposed on this Blog, in I believe good libertarian form, that government funding of academic, including scientific, research as well as government funding of education should be eliminated. It is undeniable that the vast majority of the funding for scientific research and public education, including university level and above, is stolen from the general citizenry through taxation. Clearly stealing and hence, taxation are violation of property rights. Accuracy and intellectual consistency demands that property rights include an individual’s money and other financial assets. In addition, the ownership problems that impact the establishment of property rights in the atmosphere clearly do not exist with financial assets and money.

However, I would guess that very few supporters of the AGW thesis would also support the elimination of government funding of academic, including scientific, research as well as government funding of education.

Dennis July 22, 2007 at 8:59 am

For those interested, Murray Rothbard in 1982 published the following essay: “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution”


Not the easiest of reads, especially for those not well conversant in law, but nevertheless quite instructive.

Mr. Humphey, in particular, seems to have a good grasp on the important legal issues involved.

Yancey Ward July 22, 2007 at 12:43 pm

The problem with Tom’s solutions to carbon emissions is that they are not based on private property rights. Tom is on record as favoring cap and trade, but this has almost no similarity to true private property rights, but rather, public ownwership and control.

The closest scheme I can come up with that resembles a private property solution, to what may or may not be a real problem, is a tax on carbon emissions that is fully rebated on a per capita basis. This would serve as a kind of rent for the atmosphere in which everyone receives the rent for his equal portion. Some would be net renters, while others would be net rent recipients- all dependent on how much carbon dioxide he/she emits. Of course, how private-property-like this solution is depends on how real the problem actually is, how high the tax is, and how badly it gets corrupted by state interference once it is in place.

Also, I would point out that almost no environmental activist wants to address the real possibility that there will be net positive externalities caused by climate change, or that there may be net negative externalities caused by the adoption of alternative energy sources other than the one they have a long record as opposing, nuclear.

Mark Humphrey July 22, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Tom expressed that I have ignored the special privileges granted by legislatures to 19th century businesses to pollute, and what he claims are contemporary special privileges granted to businesses through environmental restrictions. But my silence about any such special legal privileges doesn’t signal my support of grants of privilege by the State. Of course, 19th century polluting probably intensified because of those grants of legal immunity to smokestack industries.

However, Tom seems to favor massive legal privileges today on behalf of his pet causes. For example, he has been silent–at least so far as I have read–about tax-supported public education, universities, and climate “research”. The ocean of tax funding devoted to propagandizing and brainwashing Americans, and to creating and promoting a guild of state-sanctioned “experts” in various fields, for the purpose of trying to shape Americans’ beliefs, is a huge contemporary injustice. Where is Tom’s concern for “rent-seeking” in this instance?

Another example of what appears to be Tom’s double standard appears in his following comment: “As we build our ‘glittering civilization’, shall we ignore all the failures of our predecessors, and write off as ‘natural’ our destruction of open-access resources, simply because we couldn’t be bothered to establish some type of property rights or other shared mechanism to avoid destructive gluttony”…? But as several posters to this thread have carefully reasoned, regulating the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including CO2, can not be achieved by arbitrarily assigning meaningless “property rights” to non-users of the atmosphere, both because such assignments contradict the meaning of “property”, and because individual acts of C02 “pollution” produce insignificant impacts, so that no particular company could be sued for damages.

If words have meaning, then Tom’s reference
quoted in the paragraph above to “other shared
mechanism” reveals his support for broadsweeping coercive state action to impose his vision of the good on the rest of humanity. For “other” means “other than property rights”;”shared” means collective; and “mechanism” means “tax-funded, coercively imposed program”. Of course, my take on this is consistent with what I have read is Tom’s support for a carbon tax.

Tom’s reference in the sentence that I quoted to “destructive gluttony” referes to man’s productive activities in pursuit of material well-being. I think such activities are virtuous, often noble. Tom apparently believes those activities to be “destructive” and “glutenous”–i.e. greedy beyond all proportions of grace and aesthetics.

And what is the activity that Tom referes to as “destructive gluttony”? The activities associated with private enterprise: producing wealth, investing, creating, arbitraging, trading, exploring, refining, building, driving, vacationing, fishing, measuring….working! All the productive activites most Americans engage in nearly every day, as they seek to earn a living and create happy lives.

While I don’t want to be unfair, I can’t imagine that one who so characterizes productive activites–from the mundane to the noble–could ethusiastically support free markets and the
right of people to live by them.

Dennis July 22, 2007 at 6:40 pm

Can anyone point me to some reasonably credible discussions of what caused the earth’s atmosphere to warm up since the last ice age that concluded roughly 10,000 years ago? In particular, what were the atmospheric temperatures, and levels of solar output, cosmic radiation, CO2, water vapor, and methane before, during, and after the last ice age? It seems to me that any credible scientific theory of climate change should be able to explain this comparatively large and geologically recent warming episode. Obviously, man’s CO2 output or any other anthropogenic factor can not be the culprit in climate changes that occurred 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Also, using the same criteria, what credible explanations are offered to account for the warming of the earth during the Medieval Warm Period and for the cooling off that followed and led to the Little Ice Age?

Please, no references to Michael Mann or any of his disciples, since, given his fraudulent “hockey stick” graph, I do not have much respect for the credibility of his work.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 22, 2007 at 7:21 pm

What are you talking about Tom? I have engaged you directly – in the past and recently. I even responded to your unsolicited email a few days ago about Hansen’s new paper. An email, I might add, that continued your attempts to convert me to a political philosophy that I already hold. Seems to me like you’re being deliberately disingenuous and stooping to the level of character assassination.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Dennis, one of the best explanations I’ve seen for how all of the various forcings have working in the past and to bring us out of the last ice age are in Jim Hansen’s latest paper, Climate Change and Trace Gases”: http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2007/2007_Hansen_etal_2.pdf. It’s a bit dense, but worth the read so you can get some insight of how the arch-druid of the “consensus” (and co-authors) actually does build his present “alarm” on an understanding of how the climate has functioned in the past.

Regards, Tom

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 9:21 pm

Dennis, I am sympathetic to your view of the use of tax dollars to fund basic research or more advanced R&D, including climate change research, as a form of theft for the benfit or rent-seekers. May I point out that of course the largest rent-seekers here are the defense industry, and that our nuclear industry was itself born of this theft – which, together with continuing fundamental governmental entanglement may explain the suspicion with which many (not only enviros) view it.

I also note that there are “public goods” arguments that many accept – perhaps unwisely – for a government role in basic research. I haven’t made up my own mind on this yet.

Thanks for the Rothbard link, which I have presented myself any number of times over the last 15 months.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Yancey, thanks for weighing in. Of course the problem with YOUR lightly sketched proposal is the same that you identify for “mine” – it is not based on private property and involves the coercive machinery of the state. In fact, given the nature of the problem as global and all of the transaction cost issues that others have so well pointed out that make litigation pitifully inadequate, it is hard to see how any effective, comprehensive approach could be privately reached without states nserting themselves into the matter.

I respect those who take a consistent, principled position against the role of the state – even in the face of acknowledged lack of property rights or market mechanisms relating to the atmosphere. However, this pure position is too often defended not directly from strength of conviction by an open discussion of the costs vs. benefits of a government role – that would both acknowledge the concerns of others and educate them as to the reasons for opposing a state role – but by denying any problem, focusing on strawmen, making ad hominem attacks on those who are concerned, and ignoring and mocking even what Austrians should favor – voluntary approaches. In doing so, Austrians forget the lessons that Cordato, Block, Rothbard and others have taught about how environmental problems stem from the absence of private property rights (which may be purely individual or involving a community of users), and dodge the challenge that Yandle and others have posed about creating wealth by resolving tragedy of the commons problems. One hopes for more open, honest and productive engagement with those who see a problem and favor statist solutions.

The above is a general comment and not specifically addressed to you, Yancey.

“almost no environmental activist wants to address the real possibility that there will be net positive externalities caused by climate change” – this may be true to some degree but is also an unhelpful strawmen. It is easy to find sophisticated discussion of costs and benefits, even as it is easy to find who haven’t yet invested the time – on both sides. And I hear you on nuclear power, and have long been concerned that a reflexive opposition to this technology (while understandable in part given its roots and continuing government role) was resulting in much more serious environmental costs from much dirtier coal.



TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 11:09 pm

Mark, nice job of completely twisting my point. By “destructive gluttony” I think I made it very clear that I was addressing the cases of externalities that result from the lack of clear or enforceable property rights in resources – where what may otherwise be productive, wealth-creating activities go awry because users are not able to own or protect the resource or are are shifted to others; tragedy of the commons cases and their relations.

If on the basis of this you wish to doubt my support for “free markets and the right of people to live by them”, then you should also doubt the commitment of Ludwig von Mises and other Austrian stalwarts. On another thread that Geoffrey helpfully linked to I quoted extensively from LvM; you might care to take a look at whom you implicitly criticize: http://blog.mises.org/archives/006808.asp#comments

If this is the type of debate that Austrians serve up to those who are sympathetic you can imagine how others may simply turn a deaf ear to you.

Yes, “other shared mechanism” was shorthand, for a whole panoply of possible mechanisms by which resources can be effectively protected, from informal mechanisms and agreements, to formal contracts, and up to state action. Not all of this is nefarious, though certainly state actions are perilous. I would note that I think it is very clear for many resource problems that the state is in the way, and that libertarians have much of value to add if they would stop only roll up their sleeves and join the free-market environmentalists who have been working long and hard. I do think that climate change is a special case, and practiucally impossible to avoid state involvement. Feel free to either demonstrate how private efforts will suffice or simply to disagree that state action can ever be worth its costs.

TokyoTom July 22, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Geoffrey, relax. It is hardly “character assassination” for me either to point out that you have criticized me for not advancing proposals here (that you were later able to dig up from other threads) even while you have advanced no proposals yourself, or to note that others here call me “intellectually dishonest” for offering criticism without making proposals. Funny how you twist personal attacks on me as character assassination directed towards you. But go ahed, you play the victim well.

By the way, my earlier email to you was actually a BCC directed towards any number of others. Sorry for not personalizing it more – by including you I certainly didn’t mean to offend or to imply that you have not been an advocate of better defined and enforced property rights.

Many thanks for your direct post.



Yancey Ward July 23, 2007 at 8:20 am


I never said my proposal was based on private property rights entirely- only that it was the closest I could come to it.

TokyoTom July 23, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Yancey, your willingness to advance a position that is admittedly ideologically impure is both admirable and horrifying. You should be hounded off the blog! Where is the purity squad? Interrogate this man!

Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 24, 2007 at 10:26 am


This isn’t the first time you’ve stooped to the level of personal attacks rather than simply address an interlocutor’s substantive claims. Disingenuous personal attacks – in this case, because you know very well I have engaged you directly in debate in the past and have done so several times just this past week (including in email and on this blog (see here for example from just yesterday long before your personal attack post above). Hence, my response. I have no need to “relax” (another tactic of yours calculated to make yourself appear to be the calm and reasonable one). You remark assumes I am in a highly emotional state, which I am not. I hardly have to be frothing at the mouth to point out your incivility and disingenuous debating tactics. I must say you are fairly adept at cloaking your personal attacks and dirty debating tactics under a superficial veil of politeness. Not adept enough though; I don’t think many people on this blog who have been watching you for a while are fooled by it. Somebody had to call you out on it sooner or later. I’m probably not the first, and I probably won’t be the last. I’m doing so now. (If this truly isn’t intentional on your part, I strongly suggest re-examining your long pattern of behavior and being more cautious with your debating style in the future.)

By the by, doesn’t pointing out that your proposed policies aren’t libertarian count as engaging you (or at least your arguments) directly? I think it does. I hardly need to begin my post by addressing you with “Tom,” for it to count as such. This is a blog after all; most, if not all, of my posts were direct responses to your proposed policies in full view of everyone else. Only one of my posts of the past week could truly be characterized as indirect, but it (above) was still relevant to the discussion and contained no ad hominem.

Your half-hearted apology for continually attempting to convert me to libertarianism just doesn’t cut it. This is not an isolated incident. If it was it would not be a problem. We’re talking about a pattern of behavior here – of assuming, repeatedly on this blog, both without positive evidence and even in the face of evidence and protestations to the contrary, that myself and others are not consistently libertarian. I’ve made my libertarianism quite clear to you in the past, and my writings and c.v. are readily available online. In fact, it is probably safe for you to assume until proven otherwise that most of the regulars here are more consistently libertarian than you are. Keep in mind the context within which you are posting.

To address directly here some remarks you made elsewhere:

Here (December 6, 2006 07:45 AM) you appear to criticize the US Senate and Presidents for not ratifying and signing the Kyoto Treaty, or at least something like it:

“Dan, I`m not sure I understand the relevance of the 1997 sense of the Senate resolution, but aren`t you leaving out something important? The resolution didn`t say no to Kyoto, which hadn`t been finalized yet, it said that the Senate would oppose IF the accord did not contain binding commitments by China and India as well. US presidents have simply shown no leadership in negotiating a treaty that would be acceptable to the Senate; this does not imply any inconsistency on the parts of Rockefeller and Snowe.”

I hardly need point out that the Kyoto Protocols are a very un-libertarian set of policies. A heavily watered down version would still be un-libertarian.

The following (December 6, 2006 11:47 PM) suggests unborn future generations have rights:

“And don’t forget that failing to fix a commons problem is essentially a subsidy to present consumption, and that those who are favored by present consumption have engaged in very sophisticated political strategies to protect that subsidy.”

I am not saying anyone should be subsidized by the government, obviously. And, perhaps less obviously, I am not saying we don’t have obligations to unborn future generations, but it is not for you or the government to decide what those may be, how we should fulfill them, or force us to do so. Your unqualified talk of subsidies above and elsewhere suggests that you think it is. For a start on why unborn future generations don’t have rights, see this essay by David Gordon. Moreover, a “lack” of private property rights in the atmosphere is not a source of public subsidy to present consumption.

Here and here you recommend faux-market environmentalist policies:

“Theoretically, excluding the adminstrative costs of regulation, fixing a market failure actually costs less than allowing the market failure to continue unaddressed, as the status quo simply represents continued public subsidies to destructive exploitation. In other words, you can turn the question around – in a perfect world, economic actors would have to bear the costs of their behavior (even if they have a property right to pollute, the right has a value measured by what others are willing to pay them not to pollute); what are the costs that free use of the atmosphere is imposing on everyone, including public resources?”

“Ron, I think you are right to indicate that the Incredible Bread Machine will not be destroyed if we try to push for more accurate pricing signals in the market by addressing the tragedy of the commons aspect of climate change through creating transferable private rights in GHGs. We can then stand back at let the markets continue to innovate and find ways to use energy more efficiently, to reduce and sequester GHGs, and to reduce costs of transactions. It is tricky to eliminate free riders and cheating, but once a market is established (and we have sufficent carrots and sticks to get everyone on board), incentives will exist to expose cheating.”

For an Austrian criticism of faux-market or market-based environmentalistism vs. free market environmentalism, see the following essays from an Austrian economist you are fond of citing on your behalf on this blog:

Roy E. Cordato, “Market Based Environmentalism vs. the Free Market,” Independent Institute (June 4, 1997). Appears to be a shorter op-ed version of the essay below.

Roy E. Cordato, “Market-Based Environmentalism and the Free Market: They’re Not the Same,” Independent Review Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter 1997): 371-386.

See also: Jonathan H. Adler, “Faux Market Environmentalism,” Regulation Vol. 23, No. 1.

Does any of this mean that you have to be a libertarian or Austrian, or 100% libertarian or Austrian, to post on this blog? No, of course not. But it is legitimate for others to point out policy proposals that are un-libertarian or not Austrian and to reject them on that basis. We are not universally obligated to offer a more detailed critique on a blog, although we may do so.

TokyoTom July 25, 2007 at 2:53 am

Geoffrey, thanks for your comments. I’ll try to keep my responses brief, since there is little here that is actually relevant to Jim Fedako’s post.

I think it is very interesting that you and others feel like you are somehow the victims to my dastardly ways – in ways you have a tough time describing or supporting – while I on the other hand, as sticking out like a rather sore thumb, have been a continual and target for abuse that has reached such levels that the blog administrator has kindly issued several commentators to the door.

I can’t argue with how you feel, but let me say that while you do a good job of expressing it, I am at a loss to figure out just what are the “disingenuous personal attacks” that I’ve “stooped to” now and my “long pattern of behavior” of “incivility” and “dirty debating tactics”, all apparently to avoid unspecifed “substantive claims”. Seriously, if I’ve been unfair or unsubstantive I’d like to know. Yes, saying “relax” was patronizing – and I apologize – but you failed to see that in doing so I was making a reference the fact that Jim Fedako said the same thing to me in his only comment on this thread. Am I the only one who notices that I am held to a different standard?

This and much of the rest of your post (which reads like an “exposé” to others of remarks that I have made elsewhere) seem to support my perception that I am attacked simply because I am viewed as an outsider. Where was your criticism of Dr. Reisman’s suggestion that we commence open-air testing of atom bombs? Of Yancey for his proposal on this thread for taxes? Further, it is more than a simple kindness but customary for parties in a converstation to address each other, but if your own practice is to respond to the blog and to use the third person then I suppose I have misread you and can get used to it.

If you really care to explore my views on various environmental issues further, I would be more than happy on something that’s not a threadjack, either offline or a thread on point – there have been countless opportunities but perhaps you could start a “TokyoTom Revealed” thread?

I will address one point – when I stated that “failing to fix a commons problem is essentially a subsidy to present consumption”, I did not at all mean to imply that we have obligations to unborn future generations. Rather, I was referring to what I consider to be
elementary: if there are externalities to economic behavior, then those who benefit from such behavior act differently than if they were forced to internalize their behavior. Theoretically, the externality can be seen as a transfer from those who bear its costs and can be quantified. The effect is like a subsidy to current consumption, even if there is no actual payment. Even if the resource is unowned this effect is present – and is known as the “tragedy of the commons”. If resource users have no way of excluding others then the result is a race to consume now, the future be damned. In many ways, improvements to technology are leading to a continuing destructive exploitation – in those places where there are no concomitant improvements in ownership arrangements that would limit supply.

Yes, there are costs to putting an end to the tragedy of the commons by changing institutional arrangements. I agree that this is a difficult issue; one that Yandle addresses, as well as the excellent Cordato and Adler pieces that you link to (which I’ve seen). Do you note that they all conclude with calls for action that involves the state? (Calls which I wholly support.) Inevitably, we need to get our hands dirty.

Care to roll up your sleeves, instead of focussing on how unfair I am?



Mike July 25, 2007 at 12:41 pm

Hello everyone,

I’m new to Austrian thought and this site has had a profound influence on my thinking in the recent months since I discovered it. Tom’s questions don’t seem unreasonable and climate change seems like an issue that deserves a well thought out response by Austrians. Even if predictions of catastrophe are way off the mark (and therefore would need to be criticized vigilantly) this is separate from the question of what to do if they were correct. I’m totally satisfied with the Austrian analysis of other environmental problems – well defined and enforced private property rights ensure that valid environmental problems (when people or property are physically harmed) will be minimized. But the climate change issue is more complicated because no one owns the atmosphere, property damage has not yet occurred, and individual contributions to climate change may be so small that transaction costs would make it uneconomical to seek compensation for property damage. I’m not completely satisfied with the treatment I’ve seen of this issue.

But I haven’t read everything out there — Is there an article someone could point to that details an Austro-Libertarian analysis of this issue? I’ve seen several articles that take jabs at environmentalists (and many of these are worthwhile), but I’m looking for something more systematic that deals with global warming directly — not just environmentalist ideology. From what I recall, Block’s articles are great but don’t really address the unique nature of the climate change “problem.” I read the Cordata article that Geoffrey linked to and really enjoyed the contrast of market based solutions to free market solutions. Still, I’m craving a deeper analysis of the global warming issue if for no other reason than to be better equipped to debate my socialist buddies. Haha. I haven’t read much by Reisman, is this where I should look?

While I am philosophically opposed to the State, as long as it exists I at least want it to enforce private property rights. Given this, if emitting GHGs is properly understood as a violation of private property rights then it should be illegal. If emitting GHGs is not a violation of property rights, then it seems to me the State should bugger off and leave individuals alone to cope with climate change for themselves. Tom, Reisman’s idea that climate change should be thought of as a part of nature doesn’t seem so bad to me. If each person’s individual contribution to climate change is so small as to be negligible and is a problem only to the extent that 6 billion unrelated actors happen to produce GHGs too, perhaps this should be seen as just a consequence of nature that man will have to adapt to just like other environmental changes.

My tentative position on this issue is: 1) Enforce private property rights and make polluters who do demonstrable property damage accountable (this includes perhaps the biggest polluter – the State) which may alone reduce the threat of climate change; 2) Get rid of regulation and corporate welfare that may be subsidizing oil over alternative energy sources; 3) Work to minimize government intervention in all areas to allow wealth maximization which will lower time preferences (thereby encouraging investment in new energy research) and provide the capital resources to adapt to any realized climate change and 4) Pursue all voluntary solutions beyond the scope of 1-3. Until all these are in place, it seems to me that other State imposed solutions should be off the table.


Yancey Ward July 25, 2007 at 1:29 pm


You may be looking for something that does not exist. The nature of global warming caused by anthropogenic forcings would require a level of state action that no libertarian in good standing will stand for, so to speak.

Here is how I think about it. What if the warming occurs anyway, even if CO2 were not increasing in the atmosphere? Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years, before the industrial revolution. How were the property owners compensated, whose land ended up in the English Channel?

Some problems are so vast, the blame so distributed and individually infinitesimal, or even uncertain, as to be indistinguishable from natural occurrences. Action to stop man-made warming will also cause the loss of private property for some who are blameless for the indicated problem. How will we compensate those losers? This is such a can worms that no libertarian will likely come up with a libertarian solution.

TokyoTom July 26, 2007 at 12:03 am

Mike, welcome to the blog and thanks for your comments.

A few remarks:

- treating our aggregated but unintended contributions to climate change (or any other abuse of open-access resources) as “natural” is nothing but a transparent way to reduce the moral burden of considering our own responsibility. Our extinction of many species and destruction of great fisheries, rookeries and other natural resources and introduction of foreign species that continues to this day are not acts of nature, but acts of man. Why do these “tragedies of the commons” occur? Because we cannot be bothered individually to make the collective effort to create effective ownership rights in those resources.

True Austrianism shines a light on this and does not encourage a positive denial of institutional inadequacies, on top of a mere shrugging of shoulders. Whether solutions are available, practicable and worth the expense and possible rent-seeking baggage of implementation are imprtant questions, but the absence of simple solutions should not lead us to a positive denial that our activities have destructive side effects by saying that such externalities are “natural”.

- While your suggestions on a positive agenda for items that will help to abate our impact on the climate (and the changing climate’s impact on us) are all good and should be supportable by all here, if you look further you will see lukewarm support at best. Why? Because rather than directly engaging the enviros, scientists, corporation and religious groups who are concerned about whether the benefits of trying to limit the costs of increasing climate change will ever exceed the costs of such efforts, people prefer to deny that there is any problem and/or to engage in an ad hominem questioning of motives and strawmen. No one particularly cares to note that this plays into the hands of particular special interests. This is why I encounter so much resistance here – because many take offense that I would deny them an easy balm for their consciences.

By the way, you can find more by Dr. Reisman here: http://mises.org/fellows.asp?control=18
and his blog posts here: http://blog.mises.org/archives/authors.asp#Reisman



Yancey Ward July 26, 2007 at 9:02 am

Tokyo Tom,

You are clearly wasting your time here. As I wrote, most of the policies you are trying to sell are not compatible with libertarian philosophy, for the most part. The only place you can find agreement is in the elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel use, but elimination of those won’t reduce the fuels use by much of a margin since they are so immediately cost-advantaged over alternatives. Every thing else you offer simply increases state involvement in private life and increases state power. And you do this without any real support that the costs involved will not be greater than the problem itself. In other words, you give libertarians no valid reason to not be libertarians in this particular case.

TokyoTom July 26, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Yancey, you exaggerate. Yes, climate change is a tough nut, so no I don’t particularly expect to round up a whole bunch to go charging off in support of statist actions to combat climate change. But besides that, I think I have contributed to the discussion at the blog generally by way of information and trying keep the commentary honestly focused on Austrian analysis and potential common ground.

That’s something – since if those here really would like to avoid statist action on climate change then their best tact isn’t denial of climate change or ad hominem attacks, but to sympathetically explain the underpinnings of the problem while stressing their view of why it’s one that it would be unwise to ask governments to solve. Just my humble opinion.

And then of course there are other environmental issues that need addressing – and need efforts to better property rights, as Cordato and Adler point out. I’m certainly not giving up on those.


Yancey Ward July 26, 2007 at 1:35 pm


You say denial of climate change is not a useful tactic, but you either deliberately or unintentionally imply that the issue is settled. It isn’t. This is one of the issues for which readers here upbraid you. I have read a lot of the science and I am not yet convinced that the climate changes will be as dramatic as being predicted by people like Al Gore, or even a net loss for the planet.

If action on the scale you are advocating is going to be taken, I, for one, will need far better proof that it is necessary. Like I wrote, you don’t give a libertarian any reason to not be one.

TokyoTom July 31, 2007 at 3:25 am

Yancey, why do you pretend a lack of awareness on my part of, or an unwillingness to discuss, the difficulties of substantiating that (i) we are contributing meaningfully to climate change and that it imposes net costs on us and (ii) those costs are sufficient to merit addressing?

Even when I follow the premises laid down by posters like Jim Fedako or Dr. Reisman, I always run into flack from those who insist on a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mode. The more time I spend on this, the more you insist on seeing me as a paid flack for some statist conspiracy. I’m beginning to think that you belong in this group of artful, reflexive dodgers who find the imperative to defend their mental maps much more compelling than changing their minds in the face of evidence. This is nothing new; what is different is the stakes.

Would I run into any less resistance if I were to ignore all those who post on this “problem”, and to address something a little less difficult to deny, like the destruction of ocean fisheries?

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