A libertarian approach to global warming

at 02:30 PM ET, 06/01/2012


A serious property rights violation. (Joe Raedle - GETTY IMAGES)
Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, has been writing a very interesting series of posts at The Atlantic on conservative approaches to various environmental problems. Here he lays out the libertarian case for tackling climate change:

It is a well established principle in the Anglo-American legal tradition that one does not have the right to use one's own property in a manner that causes harm to one's neighbor. There are common law cases gong back 400 years establishing this principle and international law has long embraced a similar norm.  As I argued at length in this paper, if we accept this principle, even non-catastrophic warming should be a serious concern, as even non-catastrophic warming will produce the sorts of consequences that have long been recognized as property rights violations, such as the flooding of the land of others.

Policy-wise, Adler explains, a small-government approach to global warming might include things like: a revenue-neutral carbon tax that replaced income taxes, public prizes for innovation, and the stripping away of regulations that inhibit the adoption of cleaner energy. (I’ve written a fair bit elsewhere on electric-utility regulations that might be worth a peek.)

Adler also has a post on how property rights in fisheries could help reduce overfishing: “The creation of property rights in the underlying resource aligns the incentives of those who work in the fishery with the health of the fishery,” he writes. “As owners of a share in the catch year-after-year, the fishers have a stake in ensuring there are more fish tomorrow than there are today.” Iceland and New Zealand already employ systems along these lines, although they’ve been slower to spread to the United States — with a few exceptions in places like Alaska and parts of southern California.

 
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