The Environment - Caleb Jones

How do we protect the environment? Society provides us with two answers- one from the right and one from the left. As usual, both of these answers are wrong.

The right-wing has no real answer to this question. At best, they mumble something about how government is the largest polluter (which is true) and thus if the government was smaller and had less power, it would pollute less (which is also true).

There are two problems with this. It doesn’t address the pollution caused by the free market. Second, it doesn’t address the vast amount of environmental damage done by the military and wars, things the right-wing really enjoy and doesn’t want to see reduced in any real way.

The left-wing does have an answer to this question, and it’s pretty scary. Their answer is to give big, fat, corrupt, inefficient government vast power over individuals and companies to coerce you in almost every aspect of your life. Government should tell people exactly how large their toilets should be. Government should tell companies exactly how to construct their products. Billions, if not trillions of dollars, are spent and wasted butting into people’s personal business by bureaucrats who don’t know anything about economics or environment. Companies doing nothing wrong are put out of business, and people doing nothing wrong are fined or thrown in jail.

I once consulted with a leather tannery. They adhered to 100% of the environmental laws in their area. There was a pungent odor coming from their building because of the chemicals used in their tanning process. The odor wasn’t harmful; it just smelled weird. This was all okay because they made sure to build their plant way out in the country where no one lived.

Over time, folks started building houses near the plant. These people complained about the smell to the local version of the EPA. Remember, the plant was there first, many years in advance of the people now living there, and the smell was not harmful to humans, animals, or plants in any way.

The bureaucrats from the EPA descended on this company, and long story short, the company couldn’t pay all the legal bills, so they went out of business. Eighty hard-working people lost their jobs, eighty jobs were permanently removed from the local economy, the owner went bankrupt, and some of the vendors went bankrupt.

There are many horror stories like this.

So the right-wing answer is to do pretty much nothing and the left-wing answer is to control and screw up your life via massive state power and waste your hard-earned tax dollars. Could there be third option?

We Do Need To Protect The Environment

I’m going to admit my own bias. In terms of protecting the environment, this is one of the few areas where I bend away from hardcore libertarianism and lean a little left. I said a little left. I still don’t want big government putting a gun to your head and telling you how big your toilet should be. That’s insane. Yet I do think that the local government has a right to protect the air, water, flora, and fauna of its local city area.

Case in point, Los Angeles. Decades ago, Los Angeles was beautiful. Over time, the air became worse and worse, and soon you couldn’t even see the local mountains because the smog was so bad. The LA government enacted a pile of environmental laws, many of which where stupid and many of which I disagreed with, but there were some that made sense.

Today, you can see the mountains again! The air is much clearer now than what it used to be just a decade or two ago. The local laws worked, at least in that respect.

Does the local LA government have a right to impose environment laws on the local LA citizens to improve or maintain air and water quality of LA? Yes.

Can local LA citizens and companies move out of LA if they hate these laws? Yes.

Now here’s where things get interesting…

Does the local LA government have a right to impose environment laws on people outside of LA? No!

Do local voters in LA have a right to vote for environmental laws to control the lives of people living in New Hampshire? No!

This all goes back to the concept of local governance that I’ve touched on before. In a free country, the federal government does almost nothing. Not literally nothing, but almost nothing (like not, for example, having all these stupid wars that damage the environment). All other authority rests with your local city. There, you can vote for any laws you like, but you can’t vote for laws that affect other cites. People in San Francisco have every right to tell other people in San Francisco what to do via their votes, but they have no right to tell people in Miami what to do. What people in Miami do is none of their damn business. If people in San Francisco hate Miami, then they shouldn’t live there or visit there. If they love Miami, they should move there. But they can’t use government force to tell Miami what to do from 2000 miles away.

This applies to environmental laws. The federal government shouldn’t be allowed to enact any environmental laws at all. There should be no EPA whatsoever. It’s blatantly unconstitutional anyway.

However, the environment should still be protected. It’s important. Thus, your city can, and should, enact common-sense laws to protect its local environment. If you hate those laws, you can move to another city with more lax environmental regulations. If you think your town needs more environmental laws, you can vote for politicians who will support those, or move to a different city with stronger environmental regulations. Everyone wins.

I can read your mind and see an objection brewing. Let’s assume that right-wing City A doesn’t care at all about its air quality and has virtually no environmental laws. Just 20 miles away is left-wing City B with extreme environmental protections. City B has clean air, but soon a bunch of factories in City A pollute the air and it blows over to City B, poisoning and darkening its air as well. See Caleb?!? Your system doesn’t work!!!

Yes, it does. In a free country, City B can sue City A for damages using the federal court system. If City B clearly shows that City A is polluting its air, City A would be found guilty and would have to pay City B millions, if not billions of dollars. City A’s taxpayers would have to pay for that, something I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy about.

Therefore, under this system, cities would have to be aware not only of their own city, but other nearby cities as well.

The same applies if City B was downstream on the same river as City A, and City A was polluting it. City B would have legal recourse to sue for damages to its river.

Some cities, like Denver, would be so far away from other major cities that it could do whatever it liked. Clustered cities, such as those on the east coast, would have to be more careful.

It’s entirely possible that several clustered cities could make deals with each other, such as to allow a certain amount of industry without suing each other (as long as it was okay with those cities’ voters of course). The possibilities are endless.

This concept also extends to individuals. Ideally, you and I would live in a city with very few environmental regulations and thus few intrusions on our personal lives, but if you polluted a stream that you and I both shared, and I was downstream from you and got your garbage, I could quickly and cheaply sue your ass for a lot of money and win. Under this system, people would be very careful not to pollute shared air, water, and soil resources. No huge regulations needed, just an inexpensive, easy-to-use, loser-pays legal system (instead of the insane winner-pays legal system we have now).

Land Ownership

There’s a final aspect to environmental protection that no one ever talks about, and it’s critically important.

On a semi-regular basis, we have huge forest wildfires that destroy hundreds or even thousands of acres of forest and cause millions of dollars of damage to homes and businesses. These stories are always tragic and everyone feels bad when they see them on TV, as they should.

The one question that no one ever asks is: Who’s land are these fires starting on?

It’s an important question. Do you know the answer? I do. It’s the federal government.

That’s right. Just about every major forest fire is started and propagated on federal lands. Often these fires are started by federal employees! One major forest fire in California a few years back was started by a forest ranger (a federal government employee) who lit a letter on fire which she had received from her ex-boyfriend. Millions of dollars in damages were the result.

Forests on federal land are always burning to the ground and/or rotting. Whereas forests owned by corporations, such as Boise Cascade here in the northwest, are always pristine, beautiful, and never have fires. Why? It’s because if anyone damages or doesn’t maintain the corporate-owned forests, shareholders lose money, so people get fired and heads roll. Employees of free market companies make sure that those forests are always healthy and solid (and not burning).

If anyone damages or doesn’t maintain the government forests, no one cares and nothing happens. Thus, the government-owned forests often burn up, cause massive environmental damage, and cost millions in dollars in real damages.

Therefore, if you want to protect the environment, you would not want the government to own very much land, particularly our beautiful forests. Take all that government-owned land that’s burning or rotting and sell the forests to corporations, individuals, farmers, co-ops, or charities like the Sierra Club. All of these will likely manage the land better than the government, which demonstrably manages its land in an extremely environmentally abusive way.

So there you have it: local environmental laws, the ability to cheaply sue others if they damage your environment, and private ownership of land. None of those things are perfect solutions, but they’re far better at protecting the environment compared to the current system that most countries employ.

8 Comments on “The Environment

  1. The problem with this solution is that a lot of environmental problems are global in nature, with each of us contributing a small amount. Global warming is the prime example. So if global warming causes the water level to rise so much that New York City has to build a 20 foot wall around their city, who do they sue? No one government, company, or individual contributes more than a microscopic share of the blame.

    It also suffers from the Tragedy of the Commons. Let’s say the US had no federal or state legislation about fishing, relying on coastal cities to regulate it. No fishermen would do business in a community that restricted their access to the fish, so the local governments are forced to have few or no regulations. But because of overfishing, the fish population goes extinct and now all communities are without fish. The only way to prevent this is to have an agency above the local level in charge of regulating fishing, either in the form of state and federal governments or in the form of an agency the local governments formed via an agreement between the cities.

  2. The problem with this solution is that a lot of environmental problems are global in nature

    You’re correct, but there is no political solution to that. So America passes all these environmental laws, and beyond all statistical probability, they all work perfectly. Then people in America get sick because China still pollutes the air.

    What are American voters supposed to do? How do Americans fix China? So we pressure China to clean up their environment and they laugh and tell us to fuck off (which is pretty much what they’ve done). Now what do we do? Go to war against China so they stop polluting our air?

    Thus my point. There is no governmental/political solution to *global* environmental issues. You can only do the best you can within your own country, and diplomatically lean on other nations as best you’re able (knowing it might not work).

    The solution to *global* environmental problems will be technological, not governmental.

    Let’s say the US had no federal or state legislation about fishing, relying on coastal cities to regulate it. No fishermen would do business in a community that restricted their access to the fish, so the local governments are forced to have few or no regulations.

    Demonstrably untrue. You’re assuming way too much. Left-wings cities would indeed enact their own fishing regulations if there were no federal ones, even if fisherman complained. Just one example: Look at all the regulations on the auto industry California has placed on cars. The auto industry screams its head off but California still regulates the shit out of them.

    The only way to prevent this is to have an agency above the local level in charge of regulating fishing, either in the form of state and federal governments

    How would this stop Canada or Mexico from eating all of our fish? See the problem? Massive bureaucracy and waste for (virtually) no reason.

    or in the form of an agency the local governments formed via an agreement between the cities

    Now THAT would be acceptable (i.e. less bad). But still, you’d have that pesky Canada and Mexico eating all of our fish and/or polluting our oceans…

  3. I don’t know much about the California car regulations, but I imagine the reason they’re able to do it is because of their size. If a town like Oxnard tried to do it by themselves the auto industry would just ignore them and people in Oxnard would be without cars.

    For Canada and Mexico, you again need to form some sort of collaboration between countries. That’s exactly what we’ve done with things like NATO and the UN. It’s a lot easier for two governments to control oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico together than it is for hundreds or thousands of local governments to come together to agree on the rules.

  4. I don’t know much about the California car regulations, but I imagine the reason they’re able to do it is because of their size.

    Correct, bigger cities would have more leverage than smaller towns.

    If a town like Oxnard tried to do it by themselves the auto industry would just ignore them and people in Oxnard would be without cars.

    1. Oxnard would not be the only city in the United States doing this. There would be tons of others. Oxnard would not be alone, thus they’d have more leverage than you’re demonstrating.

    2. It’s possible there would indeed be less cars in Oxnard because of this (not “no cars”) but if the voters there were left-wing enough, not only would they not mind, they may actually like that.

    3. If that actually happened, and you hated it, you would move away from Oxnard to a city with more cars (and shittier air). Bingo, everyone gets what they want.

    For Canada and Mexico, you again need to form some sort of collaboration between countries. That’s exactly what we’ve done with things like NATO and the UN.

    HA! Both NATO and the UN are massively corrupt, horrifically wasteful boondoggles and titanic failures on a historic level (the UN more so, NATO had its purpose a few decades ago but not any more).

    But that’s a topic for another time. The point here is, have either of them been effective in curbing global climate change? Nope.

    Thus my point. There is no political solution to *global* environmental problems as much as people may fantasize otherwise. We’re going to have to wait for someone to invent something.

  5. The problem with not just your approach, but any basically libertarian approach to curbing environmental problem is that it relies too much on people behaving in their best interests even when their best interests go against their economic interests.

    It underestimates the capacity for the individual to slip into denial when it suits, and the capacity for corporations to use all the tools of advertising and propaganda to sway public opinion. I have no idea whether or not it is deliberate with the corporations, or a kind of self hypnosis, but they have great resources at their disposal to create doubt, confusion, or even to distract people away from the issues that will have the greatest consequences in their lives.

    You can’t come up with a solution if it is never honestly and fairly presented to the public.

    Here is a killer documentary that says it better than I can:

    http://yify.tv/watch-merchants-of-doubt-online-free-yify/

  6. The problem with not just your approach, but any basically libertarian approach to curbing environmental problem is that it relies too much on people behaving in their best interests even when their best interests go against their economic interests.

    But your approach relies too much on government not being wasteful, authoritarian, and/or corrupt. So both our solutions suck, but I’ll take mine over yours. It’s less worse.

  7. “But your approach relies too much on government not being wasteful, authoritarian, and/or corrupt. So both our solutions suck, but I’ll take mine over yours. It’s less worse.”

    But I don’t even have an approach! Maybe other commenters said something about big government, but not me.

    My point was just that when I hear a libertarian leaning approach to solving something like an environmental problem, I never ever seem to hear reference made to the level of manipulation and money that is going to be thrown at anyone on any level who even tries to figure anything out.

    It is like there is a blind spot that just skips over the issue. And that was the only point I was making: In your blog post there was no reference made to the level of reality manipulation by people with big pockets that you would have to deal with to figure anything out.

    I understand why you don’t like the the Democrat/Republican way of slicing things up, really I do, and why neither way will work. I just think your way has blind spots too.

    If I had to come up with a solution, I would say benevolent dictator is the only way to go. There, see, my solution obviously has its’ problems too, but this is the first time I mentioned a solution, and that was not my original point.

    That documentary is an awesome one, really though, worth the time to watch.

  8. But I don’t even have an approach! Maybe other commenters said something about big government, but not me.

    You want a libertarian-focused solution or a more government-oriented solution. If you don’t want a libertarian one, you what a more government-oriented one. As I will prove in a moment.

    My point was just that when I hear a libertarian leaning approach to solving something like an environmental problem, I never ever seem to hear reference made to the level of manipulation and money that is going to be thrown at anyone on any level who even tries to figure anything out.

    Ok. Then I’ll say it: Big companies in the free market often lie and act in their own best interest, which is sometimes bad.

    The problem is, government does that too.

    The only difference is government has guns and can force you to do what it wants. Businesses can’t do that to you (unless they use…big government).

    If I had to come up with a solution, I would say benevolent dictator is the only way to go.

    Uh, yeah…and you just said you didn’t want big government…

    Yes you did.

    (I’m sure your benevolent dictator won’t be manipulative with his big pockets, will he?)

    Thank you for proving my point.

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