I was recently in a discussion with folks who expressed skepticism that a libertarian could ever be an environmentalist. You need a strong government to defend the environment, was the general gist of their argument.
But, any government big enough to save the environment is a government big enough to harm it. BP may have dirtied the gulf, but it took a government to tame the Mississippi to the degree that shoreline of the gulf coast is retreating and shrinking due to the lack of silt that used to replenish the coast. BP is going to dirty the shorelines; the army core of engineers was able to sink thousands of square acres beneath the waves. It took a government to drain the Colorado River to the point that it turns to dust before it reaches the Pacific. It took a government (not our own, fortunately) to drain the freakin' Aral Sea. And, it took a government to pump our atmosphere full of radioactive particles from above ground atomic weapon testing.
So, I think the real question should be, how can a person care about the environment and NOT be a libertarian?
If I were ever to be elected president (I would place higher odds on the rapture occurring), here’s my five step environmental program. My goal isn’t a complete libertarian takeover of every aspect of American life. I’m just shooting for implementing a handful of libertarian ideas to produce a healthier planet.
1: Stop all farm subsidies. Right now, we warp markets to encourage American farmers to grow more corn than the world can consume. In a free market, farmers couldn’t make a profit from overproduction. Our corn monoculture requires the use of petroleum-based fertilizers that distort the ecosystem in immeasurable ways, and damages once fertile lands by compressing them. On a side note, I’d legalize hemp, which would provide a nice transitional crop for some of the corn farmers, and is rugged enough to grow on some of the land damaged by our present policies, helping restore the soil.
2: Eliminate federal funding of new highways. Slap toll booths on the existing highways we choose to maintain. Urban sprawl was made possible by the federally funded interstate system and the fact that use of these highways has no [i]perceived[/i] cost. Whether or not you believe the auto exhaust contributes to global warming (which, personally, I doubt), if we drove less, there would be fewer incentives for oil companies to drill holes a mile beneath the ocean. And, even the most hardcore global warming skeptic has to admit that if we cut the number of miles driven by a substantial percentage, we’d have cleaner skies, water, etc.
3: Bring the boys back home. Wars are never good for the environment. Bring home all those diesel guzzling humvees and tanks and warships and permanently park all our fighter jets. And if you think plastic water bottles all over the landscape is bad, it's nothing compared to the litter of unexploded cluster bombs.
4: Break up the government enforced monopolies of current power companies. Let power companies charge whatever they damn well want to charge. Public power companies have their rates approved by politicians in exchange for monopoly rights to supply power to given areas. The low price we pay for energy as a result means that new technologies face hurdles in becoming cost competitive. The current government plans call for subsidizing new technologies with tax dollars, or inflating old technologies with carbon taxes. But, you could just take government dollars out of the picture and let power companies charge whatever they wished. As rates went up from big companies seeking higher profits, smaller companies would be able to enter the market. For instance, if you were Walmart, and were building a new store, you could choose to do business with local power companies that were going to gouge you, or you could work with an energy contractor to cover the roofs of your multi-acre store with solar panels and install turbines on your lamp poles to capture the updraft from your parking lot. Consumers at the mercy of a price-gouging power companies might respond by purchasing energy efficient appliances and choosing smaller, more energy efficient houses.
5: If we must have public lands, then at the very least let’s charge companies that use these lands for profit ungodly fees. Right now, the cost of leasing public land to drill and oil well or mine for copper or graze your cattle is trivial compared to the profits generated from these activities. Of course, an alternative solution might be to sell off public lands at preferred rates to conservation groups, and allow them to simply not allow drilling, mining, grazing, etc. We could use the money raised to help pay off public debt.
How about it? Would anyone vote for me?