Libertarians hate the planet! That is the refrain from those who love the government. Not only is this statement false but it is intentionally so. Collectivists, Statists, Globalists, Fascists, Socialists, Communists, Democrats, Republicans, or any other group that believes that putting protection of the environment in the hands of government and global corporations is a good idea push this narrative for one purpose, profit. The real answer to the question, “How do we protect the environment?” is private property and free markets.
I know that many people have been trained to have a knee jerk reaction away from the thought of free trade as a solution. The media, who are controlled by the same government and owned by the same corporate monsters, tell us every time there is a disaster that the state is the only solution. They blame “Capitalism” for creating the problem. Greed is what makes corporations take short cuts on safety or environmental protections. This is easy to prove false. The cause of this lack of caring is the government itself and the regulations it imposes.
Before I get into how exactly the free market is the solution, I will first prove how the government is not. Since the early part of the 20th century, largely since 1913, there has been a push to give more and more control of everything to the central government. This has been true not only in this country but all over the world. The ideas of a free market that grew after Adam Smith in 1776 have taken a back seat to regulation and control. Although this country certainly was influenced by the free market, it never actually has adopted it.
Based on this understanding lets dig into how good a job Government has done at regulating and protecting the environment. The short answer is, terrible. Before getting into specific cases where central planners fail, I do need to point to the biggest cause outside of regulation and market interference that destroys the environment. This is namely the ability of any government to dress up its people in silly costumes and have them murder each other over imaginary lines on a map. Today it is usually over economic control of oil or gold. Obviously I am talking about war.
Think about all of the environmental devastation this practice causes. In WWI both sides dug trenches all over Europe, spilled all sorts of trash and chemicals everywhere, and even used poison gas not only against each other but the plains, woods, and nature that the war took place inside of. Take those awful abuses to WWII, the world repeated similar destruction to the environment. Our government took it to a whole new level and dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan. The effects of those two bombs are still being felt today.
Fast forward to the more recent wars, at the end of the first gulf war, the Iraqi government set oil fields on fire. This pumped poison into the skies. All over the world our bombs and bullets scatter death to the environment. Imagine the effect that the spent Uranium alone has had in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, or Afghanistan. “War is the health of the State,” is a quote by Randolph Bourne and is certainly true, but war is also the death of a healthy environment.
Outside of war, the government and their friends in big business are almost as destructive. This first example is not an outlier, it is the rule. In the Soviet Union, a perfect example of state control, the Aral Sea is a lake that at one time was considered one of the world’s most magnificent lakes. The socialist environmental department diverted the two rivers that fed the Aral to the surrounding farms in a collectivist plan to grow better crops. The work was completed in the 1960s. The loss of water to the Aral equaled the combined volume of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Some observers called this “Ecocide.” Most of the environmentalists at the time agreed that it was one of the “worst environmental disasters in history.” This was a planned disaster, not an accident. Government decided that economics was more important than the environment. Today the Aral Sea is a, “pond of poison.” The extensive use of pesticides and chemicals in the surrounding farms continue to make it unusable. The nearby government regulated Uranium plant stored its waste poorly and it also added to the destruction.
The central planners had managed to destroy the very farms they had set out to “help.” They not only polluted the water, but the air and land as well. Environmental analyst Philippe Rekacewitz pointed out that the strip mining of the area, under government observation, of nickel, copper, and phosphorous destroyed the ecosystem. He continues with explaining that, “the sulfur dioxide emissions alone amounted to 600,000 tons per year.” The government was not finished with these attacks on mother Earth. In what was formerly a beautiful arctic wilderness, the government deforested thousands of acres and devastated the area causing acid rain and more chemical runoff.
I will concede that this is one example and is an awful one, but it is not alone. Let’s bring this home. At the Gold King Mine in Colorado, in August of 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally dumped over a million gallons of toxic waste material into the Animus River. CNN reported, “Officials said they believe the spill carried heavy metals, mainly iron, zinc and copper, from the mine into a creek that feeds into the Animas River. From there, the orange water plugged steadily along through the small stretch of winding river in southern Colorado and across the state border to New Mexico where the Animas meets the San Juan River.” They continued with, “The magnitude of it, you can’t even describe it,” and, “It’s like when I flew over the fires, your mind sees something it’s not ready or adjusted to see.”
Of course, our government is better than the Soviets, right? Not really, USA today reported that the total amount of water that was contaminated was 3 million gallons. The cost to clean that up, they estimated, was 1.2 billion. Our EPA said, “nah, we are not paying for that.” The government who caused the problem refused to pay for it. The EPA actually said this, “paying the claims would discourage such cleanup efforts in the future.” How does that make any sense? So, who is cleaning it up? The farmers around the spill that is who is paying for it. The article says “no farmer has received a dime of compensation over a year later.” The courts have refused to listen to the case. A spill caused by the government that affected two states, Colorado and New Mexico, will be paid for by the farmers who were victimized and the government will pay nothing, and protect nothing. What this should tell you is that the government should not be trusted to protect the environment.
The media is also complicit in covering up environmental disasters. In March of 2011 a tsunami struck Japan. The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant was hit full force, sending radiation into the air and water. When is the last time we were updated? The American people assume the danger is over. In 2017, the guardian reported that the work at the plant was only 1/5 of the way complete. You read that right, in 6 years they are nowhere near done. How bad is it, surely they have the radiation stopped? Nope, the robots that are being sent in to fix it continue to die shortly after entering. No human can enter. That radiation is still pouring into the ocean and reaching as far as the United States and Australia. So, much for the media keeping us informed.
Government does not care about the environment. In 2010, an official from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, “This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy.” The official continued, “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.” In other words they use environmental policy to take from one country, namely the taxpayers in the US, and give it to rich people in 3rd world countries. The State has co-opted the environment to prop up governments all over the world.
If government causes so many disasters, has a profit motive to avoid costs, uses the media to cover it up, and generally could care less about protecting the environment, how can we hope to protect this world that we love so much? The answer may surprise you. The solution is the free market and property rights.
In the mid 1800s government controlled courts made a distinct departure from the ideas of property rights. Before this change your property was your property and what happened on it was your responsibility. On top of that what you did to someone else’s property was protected by your rights. To illustrate this Walter Block, uses this example. If you walk onto someone’s property and dump trash on their lawn it is undeniable that they have a case against you for damaging their land. If you poured that trash into their pond, again you would win a court case against them. How is it different if you pour out particles from a smokestack, or dump it in a stream that feeds your pond? It does not. The change that made this different was the idea of “the common good.” Conveniently the government protected the wealthy factory owners from litigation by saying that because what they made was for everyone, their factories and the poisons they pump are exempt or have limits to their obligation to pay for damages.
The best illustration of how this does not work can be found in the BP oil spill in the gulf in 2010. Our government has imposed a 75 million dollar cap on damages that can be charged on companies like BP. When the spill occurred Congress tried and failed to raise that cap to 10 Billion. In the headlines that sounded huge. Put that in perspective. BP, in 2010, reported 14 billion dollars in profit. If, the government had passed the increase, the stockholders in BP would have had to make due for one year with 4 Billion dollars in profit!
If we respected property rights this is what the cost would have been. According to Wikipedia, the width of Louisiana is 379 miles. If for every mile of the width of this state, which is widest at the coast, BP was ordered to pay the property owner the cost to repair the damage, which we can estimate at around 10 million dollars, the cost to the company just for the coast would be 3 Billion 790 million. Keep in mind this spill affected the coast from Texas to Florida. Easily this would have cost BP well over its profit. Add to that the next year when more oil washes up on shore, etc. Not only does honoring property rights put BP rightfully out of business but it also encourages other companies, who want to stay in business to focus on better protections. Another point also that I have to make is that the money would go to the people who actually were hurt by the spill, instead of other corporations and the government, who constantly fail to actually clean these messes up. As you can see, easily, property rights are a better solution than government. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how property rights protect the environment.
Many statists will ask, you keep saying that courts will decide if property rights have been violated, without government how does a local community private court have the power to force these companies to pay? Enter the free market, where government isn’t bailing out corporations, the free market decides who makes money and who does not. In the example above, let’s say BP said they were not going to pay, or were going to pay less. First the communities directly involved would choose to use other oil providers. The market would punish BP’s profits. How many people have family in the gulf? I do. If they refused to pay I would not buy their products. Let’s say that Illinois, which is right up the Mississippi River, bought some of the products that were damaged by the spill. In retaliation Illinois decides not to buy from BP. Indiana trades with Illinois and it affects their economy, so they boycott. It goes on and on. Trillions of dollars instead of Billions would be lost by BP for refusing.
In his book Freedom!, Adam Kokesh has a section on environmental issues. Like me, Adam values the environment. This is how he ends the section,
“A free market system will provide for the optimal usage of natural resources and properly value them, from the least to the most precious. Owners make better guardians than renters and governments rob us all of our chance to take responsible ownership stake in our planet. Through conscious consumerism, or the usage of ostracism and boycott when necessary, we can all play a role in setting appropriate standards for the use of natural resources. Regardless of our personal views on what resources are important, turning to coercion to protect them will only serve the needs of government sponsors.”
I am a proud Libertarian, and I believe in the individual. The free market and property rights are the tools that a free people have to help the environment. Nature and this planet are sacred to me. It is obvious to me, that the accusations against Libertarians are nothing more than propaganda. I as an individual take steps to do as little damage as I can to this world. I am not perfect but I certainly care more than those in the government or global corporations.