We are well aware of the libertarian approach to life in general: get the government off our backs and people will unite to effect civilizational progress. There are three basic difficulties with this approach. First, it assumes that people working together will unite for the common good instead of for the good of those so uniting. Secondly, it assumes that people unbound by a government in the traditional sense will be able to govern themselves in a civilized manner. The third problem is that chaos might ensue until the forces of non-governmental civilization get a handle of any given situation.
These three difficulties taken together are the hidden bonus code behind all the good that libertarianism can bring.
We would like to discuss global warming in light of the above difficulties. First, we have to do away with the euphemistic climate change term. Global warming enjoyed a short life in the limelight between the end of the global cooling scare of the 1970s and the realization that global warming was a failed theory. The average person never heard that global warming wasn’t actually happening or that it was happening on such a small scale that it was not threatening to civilization or that the effect of burning fossil fuels was minimal. Instead, people were told to fear climate change instead of global warming.
Climate change was the catch-all term that could explain everything. It would cause more hurricanes and tornadoes. It would cause greater snow storms. It would melt the glaciers and start a new ice age by disrupting the Gulf Stream. All in all, climate change is very scary but the climate has always changed. It goes through cycles. If we are on the cusp of a natural climate cycle, the fear of climate change is simply a waste of time.
So, let us return to global warming and ask the perhaps obvious question: What would be a sound libertarian position if it could be proved beyond a doubt that global warming was occurring, that it spelled civilizational disaster for humankind, and that it was being caused by the burning of fossil fuels?
Cooperation Between People
Our society has been organized in a non-libertarian manner for so long that it would seem impossible for average people to make the switch to banding together to reverse the dangers of global warming. Even if all the people in one location were to abandon the use of cars, there is no guarantee that the people in the next village would do the same.
Cars are the most pervasive mode of transportation in our developed societies. We can add trucks as well as the food we buy at the supermarket and then load into our cars to transport it home comes to the supermarket by truck. If we do away with cars and trucks we would be doing away with supermarkets. We would be reducing our freedom to choose what we want to eat and even if some people choose sugar bomb cereals and frozen pizza, other people choose a balance diet that includes healthy choices. If freedom is paramount, we need the ability to choose from the thousands of products a supermarket carries.
That leaves cars and trucks intact.
Agreeing to Reduce Car and Truck Use
So we would then all agree to drive our cars only to the supermarket and to work. Say goodbye to organized team sports. Say goodbye to the gym, to all the attractions in the area of Disney World, to airports, and vacations at the beach.
If we agree on some protocol for reducing our consumption of fossil fuels, we still have the problem of people cheating on the agreement. Since there would be no government to control excessive fossil fuel use, many people would use their cars more than they had already agreed to, would heat their homes more in the winter, and run the air conditioner more in the summer. We couldn’t even all move to the most temperate climate zones because we would have no way to get there.
Even if purely recreational driving were eliminated Sunday driving for example a young man who wanted visit a young woman who lives a few miles away would drive rather than arrive at her house drenched in sweat and entirely unappealing to the opposite sex.
Self-government remains a will-o-the-wisp. No one can be sure that we will become model self-governors without the stick represented by government as we now know it.
Finally, even if we were to come to believe that global warming was the existential threat we were told it was before the fear mongers segued to climate change, there would be a natural lag between realization and effective action.
George Carlin said something quite apt to this argument when he spoke about how the planet was in great shape; just the human race was in danger of self-extinction. Carlin was a very funny man until he foolishly thought he could derive humor from politics. But his insight is very prescient: even if we do all agree that global warming is a threat, it would take far too long to do anything about it.
George Will criticized football as combining the two worst things about America, violence and committee meetings. Well, if the libertarians can get people talking about non-governmental solutions to global warming or any other problem for that matter, it would inevitably set up a regime of endless committee meetings.
While we were all immersed in our local meetings to choose delegates to regional meetings where the delegates would choose the best and brightest to represent us at super-regional meetings and translators would be chosen for multi-lingual meetings, the insects, bacteria, and viruses that are far more adaptable than we are would have long past taken over the world.
All Glory to Libertarianism
As much as we love the idea of libertarianism, we also need to recognize that, as with all human endeavors, libertarianism has weaknesses and flaws. That doesn’t make it inferior; it simply makes it human and real.