Reason Science Writer Ron Bailey’s Libertarian Take on Climate, Free Markets

In a media atmosphere increasingly characterized by ‘for’ and ‘a’gin’ opinion writers, libertarian Ron Bailey has his own take on climate, climate science … and possible policy responses.

Long-time Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey likes the position he’s staked out as neither “green sympathizer” nor as “industry apologist.” And he likes too being neither fish nor fowl — that is neither Democratic nor Republican, not “blue” and not “red” — when it comes to convenient political labels.

It may be that being “free-market” and libertarian is something of its own niche market.

To Bailey, it’s the political unpredictability that helps the Reason website attract some four-million page views, as it did last month.

The libertarian-oriented organization and its publication pride themselves on deflating balloons of received wisdom. And Bailey, as one of the leading libertarian columnists on the environment and climate change, has spent 15 years at Reason doing just that, mixing wit, sarcasm, a bit of well-calculated cantankerousness, and a lot of detailed policy analysis.

Even if you don’t agree with him — and many progressives doubtless will not, given his earlier history of climate skepticism and his continued opposition to most government regulatory solutions, such as cap and trade — his articles consistently serve up a kind of bipartisan pleasure by skewering the powerful on many sides.

Take for example his views on the 2012 Democratic and Republican party platforms.

Bailey needles the GOP for not even “bothering to address the scientific evidence for man-made warming” and says of the party’s pro-nuclear stance: “There is not a word about why taxpayers should serve as nuclear power venture capitalists by being on the hook for $17 billion in federal nuclear power plant loan guarantees.”

Likewise, he takes to task the Democrats, under President Obama, for failing to live up to a variety of promises. Further, he notes, “It is heartening that the President recognizes the importance of natural gas production to the future of U.S. economy and job creation. This suggests that his administration will not endorse ideological environmentalists calls for a moratorium on fracking shale gas.”

In 1993, Bailey became the first Warren T. Brookes Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, named after the Detroit News’ staunchly conservative environmental correspondent. He spent the 1990s and early 2000s poking at holes he saw in the atmospheric science and editing books that exposed what he considered to be “eco-myths” and “eco-scams”. His was a take-no-prisoners writing style.

In August 2005, Bailey renounced his climate skepticism because, he says, of the publication of studies in Science that brought satellite data patterns more into line with surface temperature data.

“Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up,” he wrote in “We’re All Global Warmers Now.” “All data sets — satellite, surface, and balloon — have been pointing to rising global temperatures.”

And a year later, in a humorous piece — “Confessions of an Alleged ExxonMobil Whore” and subtitled “Actually no one paid me to be wrong about global warming. Or anything else.” — he documented his path from global warming skepticism to data-driven acceptance of human-induced climate change. It was around the time that other like-minded journalists and observers such as Gregg Easterbrook were changing their views on global warming (Bailey has pointed out he got there first.)

In any case, since then Bailey has trained his fire on — among other science-related topics — green-oriented solutions and IPCC efforts to find global fixes to the problem. He may believe in global warming, but the solutions, he feels, need to be free-market. There’s no renouncing that, he says.

The Yale Forum recently caught up with Bailey in a phone interview. Following is an edited transcript:

Yale Forum: What role is libertarianism and libertarian thought playing now in the environmental and climate change debates?

Ron Bailey: I hesitate to speak for all libertarians, because as we all know they are by their nature individualists. (laughter) Let me approach it this way: I think the skepticism with regard to climate change comes from a values problem. The sort of people who are pressing it as an important problem are in fact the sort of people who typically trample the kinds of values that libertarians hold with regard to individual initiative, entrepreneurial spirit — that kind of thing. So that then induces a kind of skepticism automatically when the kinds of claims made by environmentalists are in fact made. So you want to carefully evaluate the evidence before getting into those types of claims.

On the flip side, I should point out that environmentalists similarly have a values bias. They automatically adopt the sorts of claims that undermine free markets. They have literally endorsed every environmental crisis that has come down the pike over the past 40 years: overpopulation; the threat of toxic chemicals; the notion of global famine in the offing. These things proved not to be the case, or at least certainly were not the case in the time frame that had been predicted by their adherents over the decades.

Everybody adheres to their values is my point. I’d point you to some of the work the Yale Cultural Cognition Project has done on this.

Yale Forum: What do you think of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s streak of libertarianism and his take on the environment and climate change?

Ron Bailey: To be honest with you, I don’t know very much about it. I try not to do politics. I focus on policy. Honestly, I don’t think I know anything about what Paul Ryan has said about climate change. On the other hand, I have recently looked at the Republican Party platform and the only mention of the words “climate change” in the platform are sort of making fun of the Obama administration’s focus on climate change as a national security issue. They’re also against any sort of cap-and-trade program. And I can agree with them on that, but for probably different reasons.

Yale Forum: You’ve said you think environmentalists don’t appreciate that privatizing common spaces — rivers, land, etc. — can help solve problems, because then someone has ownership and an interest in stewardship. But obviously that’s problematic when talking about the atmosphere. How do you reconcile those notions?

Ron Bailey: I would like to submit to you, and this is something that I think can be fairly easily documented, that wherever you see an environmental problem in the world, it is a commons problem. The problem is occurring in an open-access commons. The problem is that with environmentalism most of the policies that are endorsed — by ideological environmentalists, I’ll call them — basically want to enlarge commons rather than restrict them. They want to increase access in certain ways. I think the good policies go in exactly the other direction. I think [environmentalists] are basically advocating policies that will destroy the resources they believe that they’re protecting. But that’s a long discussion.

The atmosphere and the oceans are two of the largest commons. So what could you do to privatize them? One of the things that was suggested of course was a cap-and-trade program, which is essentially a kind of way of trying to privatize the atmosphere. That would be initially very attractive, you would think, to free-market people. But the problem is we’ve now seen the system following the Kyoto Protocol in Europe; we’ve seen how that system got gamed — a system of crony capitalism — and it has been a complete failure. Basically, you cannot trust countries to be honest with regard to their emissions, and to monitor that is almost impossible.

I saw a report about a year or so ago, from UBS, that argued that the European trading scheme resulted in absolutely no quantifiable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in Europe. And they made no changes in technology as a result; other policies have [reduced emissions], mostly subsidizing renewables, but the trading scheme itself has been a failure. Having watched that, I personally decided that a trading scheme on an international scale simply will not work.

And then having watched proposed cap-and-trade legislation on Capitol Hill, and seeing the tradeoffs with corporations — basically to bribe them to sign on to it — also worries me considerably. One of the particular problems about that scheme is that incumbent companies would get the benefits from that. But this would exclude anybody new from coming along, with new ideas, and having access to carbon credits immediately. It would be a barrier to entry to new companies. And that was just a terrible thing to do.

So privatizing the atmosphere under that kind of trading scheme does not appear to me to work. I wish that it did. It is a clever idea, but I cannot see how the politicians can be trusted to implement it honestly.

Yale Forum: So is there another privatization idea you’d endorse to solve the climate problem?

Ron Bailey: There are four ways I believe you could address climate change. The first is cap and trade, which I believe has failed. The second one that I would hope might work – and I’ve done some thinking about it – is an international carbon tax. Basically, the argument is that a carbon tax is more transparent than if you were trying to measure the emissions of every factory, every car, every barbeque pit, every whatever. It’s a tax put on the wellhead for carbon fuels and it flows through the economy, and you will know whether China or India or Brazil or Russia has put the tax on. You’ll be able to monitor that in a much simpler way. The problem is that taxes also get gamed in all kinds of ways, and loopholes get created. Proposals I’ve seen make that problematic at an international level.

Yale Forum: Where does the revenue go, though?

Ron Bailey: I would absolutely oppose it if it were not a one-for-one replacement for income taxes or payroll taxes. It should be neutral. The whole point of it is to get rid of more carbon emissions, not to give more revenue to the government.

The other more intriguing thing, and this is where I think things are going to go ultimately, is that people are going to focus on creating low-carbon technologies for energy production. And I foresee how that trend is going to win out by the end of this century. There’s some wonderful work by Jesse Ausubel at Rockefeller University that has been showing that de-carbonization has been going on basically for two centuries and that trend has continued to accelerate over time. I think that there’s a very good prospect that those technologies will win out in the end, and possibly solve the problem without too much interference with regard to these kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax schemes.

But there’s a fourth way to look at it that I find intriguing: That is inter-generational equity. We always hear about inter-generational equity, and the concern is that people should have, a century from now, essentially the natural environment that we have today …. Go into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios, you look at their high-carbon emissions scenarios or economics. What you find is that in that world, the average incomes are somewhere around $100,000 a year in 2100, per capita globally. Then consider the Stern review out of England, which was very important and which looked at the economic stakes of carbon loading to the atmosphere over a long time scale. The worst-case scenario is that global warming would reduce incomes by 20 percent by the year 2100 — something like that. That means that instead of making $100,000 a year, people in 2100 would be making $80,000 a year. The current per capita in the world today is around $8,000 to $9,000. So how should people living at $8,000 to $9,000 sacrifice for people who are going to be making $80,000 one-hundred years from now? That’s inter-generational equity. Another way of looking at it is: How much should your great grandparents, who were making $2,000 a year, have sacrificed to have the atmosphere essentially 1.5 degrees cooler than it is.

Yale Forum: Professor John Christy, climate scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, has been your go-to climatologist through the years. Why?

Ron Bailey: My bias is against models. My bias is in favor of empirical data. The reason that came about is that I saw how models could be used and abused. For example, the “limits to growth” controversy, about resource availability and so forth. That includes the Global 2000 Report that came out of the Carter administration. And they were simply wrong, it turned out, with regard to the availability of lots of different resources. So what I would like to do is to think that you compare models with empirical data. When I first started to report on climate back in the 1980s, Christy and Roy Spencer had started a satellite data collection, and it was unlike the surface area temperatures …. It was diverging quite significantly from the thermometer surface data, and so I found that interesting. You could imagine why surface data might not capture what was actually going on over the entire globe, including over the oceans. That’s when I became intrigued by the satellite data.

What’s interesting is that it turned out that it needed correction, and it was corrected, and it became more in line with the surface data temperatures. But what I’m intrigued by is that if you look at the range of the temperature data increases over time, over any reasonable length of time — let’s say three decades — the satellites are seeing an increase of 0.14 Celsius per decade. The highest is about 0.19 Celsius per decade. Those are still lower than the modeled predictions …. There are all sorts of reasons that might be the case, such as natural variation. But what I find funny about natural variation is that when the data do not confirm models, they basically say, “Well, they can’t capture natural variation over the period of a decade or so. You have to wait 16, 18 years.” So natural variation can be used by both sides to explain away stuff they don’t want to hear. I find that somewhat amusing.

Yale Forum: So what do you make of the consensus figure of at least 0.6 Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels? Do you agree?

Ron Bailey: I’m more worried about the rate of warming than total warming. I think the thing we can all agree on is that since the 1950s, the climate has warmed up about 1.4 degrees Farenheit, thereabouts. In terms of the rate, historically there has been a difference between the various datasets, as I understand it.

Yale Forum: You reviewed Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature back when it first came out. What do you think of what McKibben’s doing now?

Ron Bailey: I think that Bill is a thoughtful guy who has always had a bias and belief that the world is coming to an end, and that humanity is the biggest threat to the planet. He’s had this view ever since he worked at The New Yorker. Whenever he sees data, he interprets it in the most dire possible way. And I’m not inclined to do it that way; and I consider myself to be more objective. He’s no longer doing journalism, he’s doing activism. That’s fine. I happen to think he’s more alarmed than is necessary.

He gave me a nice blurb for my book on biotechnology, Liberation Biology, which was very kind of him. And we were talking when he was doing the blurb, and I asked him about The End of Nature and asked, “So now what’s your view about genetically modified crops?” And he said, “I don’t think about that anymore.”

Yale Forum: You think a lot about how science is packaged and spun. For example, your 2012 article titled “Everyone Freaks Out about Two New Climate Change Studies.” Do you feel that science is being overhyped everywhere, on all sides?

Ron Bailey: You do see that. I know there must be knockdown, drag-out fights among physicists over string theory. But you don’t see Paul Ryan [R-Wis] or Nancy Pelosi [D-Ca] opining about quantum mechanics, because it doesn’t have any policy implications. The problem right now in modern, liberal, democratic societies like the United States is that we no longer trust figures of authority like we used to. We don’t trust religious figures, we don’t trust politicians. So the only thing we have left to say is that studies are on my side, or science is on my side. What you end up with is that in any argument people say science is on their side; it’s the only supposedly objective standard left for claiming authority. But by doing so, you’ve completely politicized one of the most important features of liberal, democratic societies, which is objective science.

Let me give you an example. I was extremely disheartened about the controversy over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and natural gas. I didn’t really have an opinion about it, but I started reporting and looking at studies. My confirmation bias being what it is, I looked at it and couldn’t see any problems with it. You have this incredibly dishonest documentary called “Gasland” out there, where you have this guy lighting his faucet on fire supposedly because you have a fracked well coming into his water well. It’s not true, it’s flat-out false. What I noticed was that the environmental movement decided it did not like natural gas because it was undermining the competitive position of solar and wind power, which are their preferred sources of energy ….

What you started to see were hastily thrown-together estimates, some out of Cornell, some out of Duke, that allegedly showed there were environmental problems with fracking. These studies helped back a particular political point of view. But if you go into those studies, I would argue, they are incredibly thin, very badly done …. It occurs to me that you see this a lot now: Whenever an issue gets political salience, six months later you see a bunch of studies proving that whatever the ideological environmentalists have decided to go after is the case. I think this is a terrible problem with science. There are so many areas of science that have been politicized. Again, it is being used as a supposedly objective standard to support the policies you already prefer for other reasons. It happens on the left and on the right, and it really bugs me.

John Wihbey

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections, John Wihbey is an editor and researcher at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. (E-mail: john@yaleclimateconnections.org, Twitter: @wihbey)
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21 Responses to Reason Science Writer Ron Bailey’s Libertarian Take on Climate, Free Markets

  1. Charles Mac Arthur says:

    All the links in centralized agricultural production, distribution, shopping seem dependent on the compressed air inflated “rubber” tire, actually products dependent on petroleum. It would be splendid if nuclear energy could be used for their creation or reclamation.
    On the internet there is a photo of an SUV with wooden tires. Here in Maine we eat California lettuce, $3.00 a head in winter when our scattered farms are dormant.Imagine, if you will, an 18 wheeler trying to dodge potholes -repair asphalt comes from oil refineries- over a 3800 mile course. One tire alone dropped into a declivity and the game is over. And driving slow enough to avoid catastrophy would just result in rotten unmarketable lettuce.
    The recent trend toward Walmart groceries also rules out housewives shopping.
    Etc.
    and etc.
    Populations within a half day’s wheelbarrow push of a year round producing organic farm? Survivors. They might be able to purchase foodstuffs by exchanging human urine {fertilizer value NPK-18-2-5 and 20:1 dilution} in place of the current fossil fuel derived chemicals which employ a ton of fossil fuel to make each ton of ferilizer.

    Last one out, open the gates for bison again.

  2. Martin Lack says:

    I have some sympathy for Ron Bailey as he may well find himself attacked by ideological prisoners of all kinds. I seem to have the same problem; I am socially conservative (as opposed to liberal) but I am also an environmental realist. What I mean by this, is that I accept anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) as evidence that Meadows et al (1972, 1992, 2006) were not wrong; it has just taken until now for them to be proven right.

    Bailey may well be right to say that many libertarians are skeptical because they perceive themselves to be in a battle. However, we will not correct this flawed perception by massaging their egos. To say the problem is a “clash of values” comes perilously close to validating the Watermelons fallacy of people like James Delingpole (i.e. that all environmentalists are authoritarian socialists in disguise). No matter how many times this lie is repeated, it will not become true. However, until libertarians stop believing it, they will remain an obstacle to solving the problem.

    To be clear, the problem is the pursuit of perpetual quantitative economic growth on a finite planet. The Earth has a finite capacity to assimilate and/or recycle the waste products humans produce. When this capacity is exceeded our environment is degraded – ACD being the ultimate result: ACD is a Limits to Growth phenomenon; and the longer we delay tackling it the greater will be the environmental degradation (and consequential reduction in ecological carrying capacity) inflicted upon the planet.

    Limits to Growth is not the invention of some kind of environmentalist agenda – socialist, pantheist or whatever – it is just physics. Therefore, libertarians need to stop thinking of themselves as being in a battle. Anyone who picks a fight with the Second Law of Thermodynamics and/or the concept of Entropy is absolutely guaranteed to lose… And, unfortunately, if they lose, we will all lose.

    • Paul Quigg says:

      I have been following the “Limits to Growth” theory for over forty years and I find that our “finite” resources have grown exponentially since 1960. Donella Meadows was correct on the carbon dioxide doubling theory but that was the only proposition that was correct in the entire book. We do not live in a finite, fragile planet. Every day we receive vast amounts of “free” energy from the sun, which we are having a very difficult time harnessing. It will be many years before solar is a competitive alternative energy source.

  3. Larry says:

    “people are going to focus on creating low-carbon technologies for energy production”

    Yeah, but absent a carbon tax (my preferred system), or cap and trade, or flat out strict regulation, how long is it going to take to get low-carbon technologies widely adopted? Global warming isn’t a problem that we can just casually address over decades.

    As for Christy, see here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/skeptic_John_Christy.htm
    He is consistently wrong and/or misleading.

    For a takedown of his satellite record, try this one: http://www.skepticalscience.com/christy-once-again-misinforms-congress.html

    And here is his colleague Spencer being wrong and/or misleading: http://www.skepticalscience.com/skeptic_Roy_Spencer.htm

    As for the commons…they may not be “privatized”, but they are still owned. They are owned by all of us, with the government representing us. The solution is not to hand over the commons to the highest bidding subset within the commons.

    It’s kind of a goofy argument with the atmosphere, since it’s everywhere and you can’t take it away from me. But look at water – we will be facing a shortage in the future. Should the solution be to sell water rights to the highest bidder? What if I’m not the highest bidder and then can’t afford the price that private interests set for it? Millions, maybe billions, of people would die if water were privatized. I guess that’s a “solution” as far as it drastically reduces demand and lessens the strain on the resource, but I don’t think most people would consider it a viable solution (except for the wealthiest people willing and able to pay for it).

    • Martin Lack says:

      Well said, Larry. I decided to give Bailey the benefit of the doubt regarding his (hopefully historical) reliance upon Spencer and Christy (since he now claims to accept the scientific evidence for ACD being a real problem).

      • Larry says:

        Thanks, I just got done reading a book by Michael (I think?) Sherman of skeptic.com. He’s also a libertarian. And he also, like Bailey here, seems to think that makes him purely objective, not realizing that libertarianism is an ideology just like any other.

        Why else would he seek out people who are way outside the mainstream scientific consensus and value their analysis above all others? If Baily is truly concerned with empirical data, he may want to look at this data showing that, on our current emission path, the CO2 levels around 2100 will be the same as levels last seen 30-100 million years ago when the Earth’s average temperature was as much as 88 degrees:

        https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/3628/earth-s-hot-past-could-be-prologue-future-climate

  4. Nullius in Verba says:

    I’m not sure Ron’s proposal is all that libertarian, but it’s good to see the attempt being made. I agree that free market approaches are more likely to work. (Although my view would be that they’re already working – if the free market isn’t doing anything, that’s because that’s the right thing to do.)

    There are a few free-market things that could be done, actually.

    One is to note as the bookmakers do that where people disagree about the facts, there is money to be made. You can set up a financial instrument, a bond of some sort, that pays out at a certain high interest rate when some climate impact does (or does not) occur. For example, a bond that pays out at 20% when the sea level rise exceeds one metre, but expires in 2100. You can buy and sell them at a market rate, which will depend on the traders’ assessment of the probability of the event occurring before the expiry date. As the assessed probability rises and falls, so does the price.

    It means that believers can raise money for climate mitigation from non-believers, and non-believers can offset their losses with money from believers, and whoever turns out to be wrong will end up paying the bill. It will force people to be honest in their assessments, as expressed by the price they’re willing to pay. It will motivate funding for better science, as people try to get a lead on the market. And it might motivate further action to mitigate the effects if non-believers change their minds and realise they’re about to lose a lot of money.

    There are many situations where people have the desire and ability to do things that can potentially harm others. The authoritarian approach is to regulate or ban these activities, to prevent harm. The libertarian approach is to allow them as far as is reasonable, but require the actor to pay damages to the victims if harm occurs. To the libertarian, this balances the harm done top people by loss of liberty against the harm done by letting other people do what they want. Only when the probability and magnitude of harm exceed a certain threshold is regulation justified. Where you set the threshold depends on how highly you value liberty, and libertarians of course set it very high.

    Thus, a libertarian normally requires some very solid justifications before considering regulation, regarding the probability, impact, and quality of evidence. Their default is to allow freedom, unless there are very solid reasons presented not to. In contrast, the default position of the totalitarian is to regulate, unless strong arguments can be presented not to. They don’t believe people should have the freedom to cause harm.

    Ron Bailey may think that climate science has passed that threshold, in which case I can understand the disagreement. But he seems to be arguing as if even uncommitted libertarians ought to take this position too, which is not the case.

    The more libertarian approach would be to assign liability for the consequences to energy users, and allow the risk to be traded. People who don’t believe in it can take the risk. People who are uncertain can pass on the risk for a fee (i.e. buy insurance), or change their behaviour to incur less liability. And non-believers can hardly object to taking on liability for something they don’t think they’re ever going to have to pay out on.

    • Martin Lack says:

      If you want evidence that laissez-faire libertarianism is a one-way ticket to mass extinction, please Google “deforestation” and “Easter Island”.

      • Nullius in Verba says:

        What does libertarianism have to do with European colonialists importing rats that ate all the tree seeds?

        • Dan Rogers says:

          Nullius, whom are you asking?

          There certainly was a clear connection between libertarian ideas and the deforestation of the Galapagos. That debate ended years ago. The authorities are myriad. Why would you question it now? Do you like rats?

          • Nullius in Verba says:

            ‘Galapagos’?

            The historical evidence about what happened to Easter Island is complicated, unclear, and inconsistent. There are the journals of the European explorers, the oral history of the natives, and the archaological evidence, and they don’t agree.

            There are two main competing theories. One of them holds that the natives developed a statue-building civilisation that required heavy use of trees, they exceeded the replenishment rate, and when they started to run out they had no way to stop, not without ending their comfortable lifestyles. In the end the last trees were chopped down, and war and collapse followed, the population crashed, and when the Europeans arrived they found the sparse and uncivilised remnants on a denuded island surrounded by these amazing and mysterious statues.

            It supposes the natives were stupid and short-sighted, and was developed back in the old colonialist they’re-just-a-bunch-of-savages era of anthropology. Nowadays the story has been reinterpreted as a lesson in resource management.

            The alternative theory, following on from more recent archaological evidence, is that they were fine up until the arrival of the European colonists. Some of the first explorers recorded in their journals tales of thriving natives in a bountiful land and sea, that they were greeted offshore by natives in dug-out canoes. The usual story of European exploitation followed and the culture collapsed, and archaological remains of tree seeds showed them to have been gnawed by the rats the Europeans had brought. The other story grew up later, and the natives with no real historical record of their own repeated what the visitors wanted to hear.

            Which story you find more believable depends on your preconceptions. Whether you’ve even heard of them both on how ‘selective’ your chosen authorities are. It’s a politically useful story, certainly. I don’t believe it’s settled science.

            The first story is built around the concept of the tragedy of the commons. Resources in common ownership where users benefit individually but pay collectively tend to get overused to the point of collapse. The solution in the case of the commons was to take them into private ownership, and rent out access in a controlled way, so if the owner allowed it to be abused he lost its value personally. Believers in markets support private ownership and oppose common ownership for that very reason.

            The argument sometimes used by the neoMalthusians is that the Easter Islanders allowed their population to grow beyond what was sustainable, and then when things started to run out, even market solutions couldn’t help. Resource owners are not going to accept poverty and restraint in the short term if they don’t have to, even if that ultimately dooms everyone. But the market response to shortage is to raise prices, which limits supply to the minority that can afford it; an automatic rationing system. It may still result in social collapse, but of a different sort. Of course, the consequences are still terrible, and the kind-hearted (or the mob) may decide to subvert the market system so the poor can survive in the short-term. The authoritarian might argue that a strong government could have foreseen the problem and prevented it, and it was the combination of kind-heartedness and the lack of that ability to restrain the population that doomed them. I suppose something like it might have happened on Easter Island.

            But in any case, I don’t see any connection between Easter Island deforestation and libertarianism. I tend towards the ‘rats’ theory anyway – the alternative seems psychologically implausible to me – and even the alternative theory doesn’t pose a difficulty for it; at least not without a good deal of unsupported speculation.

            I think it’s based on a misunderstanding of what libertarianism is, and of how free markets work. But it was a bit difficult to tell from a two-line comment asking me to Google something.

  5. Leonard Conly says:

    I would be interested in a libertarian response to the following quandary:

    Suppose an enormous asteroid capable of obliterating a sizable segment of our life support systems is detected on a collision course with our planet.

    Further suppose that it might be possible to change the course of the asteroid with existing technology in such a way as to avert the catastrophe.

    How would this problem be solved? Would we wait for the free market to find some “profitable” solution to it, or would we engage in a collective, international effort to avoid the calamity. The U.S. succeeded in a Manhattan Project like effort to compete in the space race – putting a man on the moon within 10 years – in response to the existential threat it felt presented with by the Soviet Union.

    What does one do today who feels that we face the same existential threat from global warming? It is quite frustrating to hear the “solution” to this problem presented as one that the market can deal with.

    I’m encouraged to see the revenue neutral carbon tax presented as a solution by the author. In my opinion it is the only real fix to this problem – if properly implemented.

    • Dan Rogers says:

      Assuming the threat of the asteroid is real, and not some made up nonsense like the threat of excess carbon dioxide, the nations of the world would engage in a collective, international effort to avoid the calamity.

      • Leonard Conly says:

        I’m glad you would support collective action to deal with a hypothetical asteroid.

        What’s your impression of the video posted to this link? The disappearance of the Arctic ice strikes me as a serious problem and not just for the narwhals and polar bears.

        http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2012/09/loss-of-arctic-sea-ice-and-of-a-giant-parasol/#more-13322

        • Juice says:

          No tenet of libertarianism rejects voluntary collective action. Involuntary (forced) action is rejected.

      • Martin Lack says:

        Please excuse me Dan, I don’t mean to upset you but, what qualifies you to second-guess the vast majority of scientists on the planet and claim that doubling the CO2 content of our atmosphere is not a problem?

        Let’s be clear about this, there are only a handful of legitimate scientists with anything like appropriate expertise who think otherwise; and they have been paid to spout their contrarian ideas for decades (or at least since the welcome demise of the USSR).

        The asteroid is a very good analogy because, as indeed is now accepted by all sorts of disparate groups from both ends of the political spectrum (and everywhere in between), the longer we wait to tackle this problem, the more expensive it will get to solve.

        If you are not concerned about the potential disappearance of Arctic sea ice before 2020, or the 50% loss of the Gt Barrier Reef in the last 30 years, perhaps you may be more concerned about real things that affect you personally:
        - Increasing food and commodity costs due to crop failures of all kinds (due to extreme weather of all kinds).
        - Increasing building and contents insurance premiums due to the increasing cost to insurers of settling “act of god” claims.

        I really do think you need to stop listening to all those people who tell you this is a false alarm; and start thinking for yourself.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VttL3ZYQpy4

        • Dan Rogers says:

          In all seriousness, Martin, are you really asking me what qualifies me to make up my own mind on these matters?

          If you are, then I will ask you in turn what DISqualifies you from doing the same thing?

          Just take a look at what the evidence supposedly is for AGW. It is as flimsy as it can be, but people without any confidence in their ability to examine and evaluate that evidence for themselves simply defer to others — supposedly smarter people than they are — and just fall into line. The worst of them disparage those of us who do not do the same. They say that at best we are being disrespctful of authority, and at worst we should be arrested and prosecuted for dangerous heresy.

          I have been told that a minuscule gas in the atmosphere controls the climate, and I have been told to ignore the fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Since both of these assertions are, at first glance, preposterous, I have examined the evidence in support of those assertions, and I have not been persuaded by it.

          I am arrogant enough to decide things for myself. There you have it.

          • Martin Lack says:

            Sorry Dan, my first attempt to respond to this did not get through moderation. This was because I was a little too blunt in expressing my opinion that I find your position utterly ridiculous.

            To me, you do not appear to be thinking for yourself; you merely appear to be reciting contrarian misinformation.

            For anyone to assert that CO2 is a harmless trace gas, it is first necessary to choose to believe that the vast majority or relevant scientists are either stupid, mistaken, or deceitful.

            Even if logic were the only criteria, given the track record of big business for lying about things being “harmless”, I think most reasonable should be able to work out who is being deceitful (and it is not the scientists).

          • Dan Rogers says:

            “For anyone to assert that CO2 is a harmless trace gas, it is first necessary to choose to believe that the vast majority or relevant scientists are either stupid, mistaken, or deceitful.”

            A person does not “choose to believe” something. A person can choose to SAY he believes something, and he could either be lying or telling the truth.

  6. Dan Rogers says:

    I do not believe that “the vast majority of relevant scientists” actually believe (1) that CO2 is a dangerous component of the atmosphere, or (2) that it is a principal factor in determining global temperatures. I do believe that any number of scientific organizations — how many I don’t know — have issued statements endorsing the IPCC conclusion that CO2 is, at the very least, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, and, at the very most, a principal factor in determining global temperatures. Those organizational position papers do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of each and every member of each such organization.

    Do I believe that there are any scientists anywhere in the world who are stupid, mistaken and/or deceitful? Of course not! Every scientist is, by definition, intelligent, infallible and honest to a fault. If that were not so, they would not be “scientists.”

    I do believe, however, that there are non-scientists out there who are indeed stupid, mistaken and/or deceitful, and that some of them have seized the opportunity to try to sell the public on these five “inconvenient truths”:

    (1) that CO2 and global temperatures are both increasing;

    (2) that they track one another quite closely;

    (3) that human beings create CO2 by burning fossil fuels;

    (4) that CO2 created by human beings must therefore be the reason that global temperatures have been increasing since the start of the industrial revolution; and

    (5) that climate change can be — indeed MUST be — slowed or reversed by controlling or prohibiting human caused emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere.

    The first, second and third truths are amost certainly true. Numbers four and five are falacious. The people who contend that four and five are true are people who are, I believe, stupid, mistaken and/or deceitful, and I am sad to say that the most prominent ones among them are driven much more by deceit than by stupidity or ignorance.

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