A Libertarian government would introduce a system in which owners have full control of their property to the extent that their actions do not infringe on the rights of others.
Pollution and Restorative Justice
Pollution of another person’s property, including their body, is a violation of individual rights. Pollutants refer to substances that are harmful or unwanted from the point of view of the injured party, and can include noise, odours, toxic and non-toxic substances, radiation and litter.
Polluters must be held strictly liable for the harm they cause to health and property, and be required to cease the pollution and/or provide compensation acceptable to the injured party.
Such a libertarian system of restorative justice would be costly for offenders, and would have a powerful deterrent effect. However, this would not be a sufficient reform, as another major weakness in the current system is the prevalence of public property.
Public Property vs. Private Property
Private ownership of property leads to responsible maintenance of that property. The owner has invested in it, so he evaluates the costs of his own actions and the actions of those to whom he rents. With publicly owned land, there is little incentive for users to respect the resources they use.
Only 11% of land in Ontario is privately owned and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources holds jurisdiction over 88% of Ontario's forests. With a Libertarian government, this situation would be corrected. Public lands would be auctioned off to private individuals, businesses and groups who could make use of them, including First Nations communities.
Today when a company dumps toxins in a lake, the government threatens them with fines. In a libertarian system, lakes would be divided among property owners for fish and other resources, and those owners would be much more motivated to detect pollution and take legal action.
Property rights will need to be defined in more detail, especially in the case of air and water. The water that flows above and below the ground can be described in terms of property. Each household owns the proportion that they use. Both the air and water - polluted or otherwise - flow into and out of a definite space that is also defined as a person’s property.
Ownership of rivers follows the riparian system in Ontario, which is a sound common-law system of ownership based on usage. Unfortunately, Ontario has a comprehensive permit system which enables the province to supervise all major consumptive uses of water.
Natural resources would become the property of those who access them, based on agreements with landowners who control the source. Private owners of parks and beaches could open them to the public. There would also be private hunting and nature reserves in which owners had a vested interest in protecting endangered species.
In a libertarian system, land use will be determined by owners and not by governments! Governments will not be able to override the decisions of owners in the interest of revenues or “green space”. No one except the owner will decide whether he is doing too much with his resources or too little. Libertarians will repeal the numerous oppressive land management laws such as the Greenbelt Act, which prevent property owners from developing their property as they wish.
Free Market Solutions
Since pollution would be costly for violators, respect for the health and property of others would be much more common. Property owners would pay responsible waste management services to remove all kinds of waste. The disposal rate for a particular material would reflect the reality of real costs and would tend to affect the buying habits of consumers. In turn, consumers would cause manufacturers to reconsider their materials.
A genuine free market would be a major factor in controlling pollution. Beach-goers, for example, care about pollutants in the water and sand. Also, consumers are interested in how their foods are produced. There would be more consumer information services to provide data about the safety of products. Insurance companies would offer better deals for responsible owners to cover possible infractions.
Agreements among neighbours would be another factor that would replace top-down regulations. Property owners and tenants would make contracts concerning levels of pesticide use. Airports and airlines would deal with property owners directly and pay them to allow a specified level of noise onto their property.
In a libertarian society, each person will own his own life and will be free to decide the type and quantity of substances he is willing to expose himself to. In order to avoid liability, owners will be pushed by economic concerns to make employees, residents and customers aware of this information.
A libertarian society will empower people to be aware of their own environment. They would test their own air, soil and water (using companies that specialize in testing), and would take charge of what goes into their bodies and homes. They would decide what they can and can not live with.
Many people have serious concerns about air pollution in Ontario. For automobile pollutants, property owners would complain to those who managed highways and roads. The companies that replace the Ministry of Transportation could be sued for pollution. As a result, those who administered roads would tend to charge drivers higher fees unless they switched to cleaner fuels and technologies. Property owners living adjacent to the road could sign contracts to allow a certain level of air and noise pollution in exchange for fees or shares in the road companies.
Energy and Global Warming
Both global warming and, in the recent past, global cooling have been used as excuses to demand increases in government control of our lives and our economy. “Green-house gases", such as carbon dioxide, which are blamed for global earth-warming, are a natural by-product of living and breathing human beings. Evidence shows that increasing solar activity is most likely the cause of global warming, which causes glaciers to melt and release more CO2. No other scientist has been able, with reliable data and accepted algorithms, to reproduce the “hockey stick” chart used by the International Panel on Climate Change to “prove” global warming over the last two decades.
The use of fossil fuels will decrease as the cost to find and extract it increases and as technology improves the efficiency and reduces the cost of alternative energy sources.
It is worth noting that nuclear energy was considered an uninsurable risk until the government passed a law limiting the liability of nuclear power producers and provided the “insurance.”
Liberty is Human-Centred
Today there is a lot of hot air about respecting nature, but there is no respect for the nature of man, who requires freedom to act and choose. Individuals must be free to do what they think is best for their own well being, and that includes burning fuels to heat their homes and to run their vehicles and businesses.
Links to Environmental Web Sites and additional reading
Environment Probe (based in Toronto) promotes property rights and decentralized decision making to empower individuals and communities to protect natural resources. It is also a sharp critic of subsidies to resource industries. The following are some publications available from Environment Probe.
- Property Rights in the Defence of Nature. By Elizabeth Brubaker
- The Common Law Approach to Pollution Prevention
- Markets and the Environment.
- Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution. By Elizabeth Brubaker.
- Incentives Matter. By Elizabeth Brubaker and Thomas Adams.
- Enlisting Trees in Canada to Fight the Greenhouse Effect. By Wendy Hawthorne.
- Save the Forests - Sell the Trees. A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Lawrence Solomon.
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) declares itself to be "Canada's "Smart Green" Think Tank". It is an independent, western Canada based public policy organization with offices in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary. Its mission is to develop and popularize policy choices that will help Canada's prairie region live up to its vast but unrealized economic potential. You can find a catalogue of their articles on the Environment here. The following are a few examples of their papers.
- (Desparately) Looking for Arctic Warming "The Arctic ice has been rebounding since its latest low ebb around September 2007. And despite steadily rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels...average global temperatures have been stable or declining since 1995." Modern Environmentalist by Paul Driessen and Willie Soon.
- The Environmental State of Canada: 30 Years of Progress is one of Frontier Centre's Policy Series papers outlining the improvements Canada has made environmentally. Air, water, soil are dramatically improving despite all the environmental scare-mongering. Forest cover is steady, not declining. Carbon Dioxide is increasing but far slower than predicted in the past based on economic growth. (50 pages)
- Canada’s Forests are Getting Healthier reports that Canada’s natural environment is actually becoming cleaner and greener over time.
The Fraser Institute (based in Vancouver) does reasearch on the environment and recomends market solutions. The following articles are available from them.
- Is the Climate Really Changing Abnormally? By Ross McKitrick
- A Breath of Fresh Air: The state of environmental policy in Canada
- Understanding Climate Change. By Nicholas Schneider
- The Path Toward a Healthy Environment, Fraser Forum magazine, April 2008.
- The Truth about Green Energy, Fraser Forum magazine, March 2009
FREE - Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (based in Bozeman, Montana) is an organization devoted to social change that harmonizes environmental quality with responsible liberty and economic progress. FREE appies economics and scientific analysis to generate and explore alternative and innovative solutions to environmental problems.
Overpaying for Green Power, published in the May 2010 issue of Reason magazine, talks about the high "feed-in" tariffs for green power in the US while Europe, where the idea originated, are being reduced.