Liberty and the Environment

There is no point to assuring social stability, political security, and optimal ‘liberty’ for future generations if they are to inherit an environmental wasteland that forces their hand into cleaning up our mess.

There must be restraints on the liberties which people and institutions take with our earth, just as there are laws against theft.  In general, if a resource is both renewable and clean – with steps in place to renew it when important to do so (e.g. trees) – then there should not be restraint on industries which produce goods from these resources (e.g. paper).  But should demand outstretch renewability (e.g. paper), then alternatives to these products must be sought (e.g. go paperless), and not ones which are wasteful or promote further pollution in other directions (e.g. plastics).

On the other hand, if a resource is rare or not clean or not renewable – like many rare metals that fall into all three classes – then there ought to be restrictions on their use even if they come from land which is not public.  This reflects the importance of the issue to future liberty.  We should not pretend, for instance, that wasting rare metals and polluting with them does not constrain future capacity for free action – liberty.  It minimizes the future use of those metals and forces future action to focus on problems that were avoidable.

So much may seem acceptable for such things as Plutonium, but there remains the concern that government intervention into business practice would only hinder progress. If strong constraints were in place, after all, it would seem doubtful that such things as the iPhone would ever had seen production. The question is how to balance. This question is difficult. It is clear, however, that such products should not go to production without a plan for reuse and recycling, and for such plans to be valid, they must incorporate plans for reuse and recycling into the design of the products themselves. [1].

If it should seem that environmental concerns are directly contrary to business and therefore not libertarian concerns, consider that I am not, as a libertarian, concerned with the liberty of companies.  I am concerned with the liberties of individuals – and the accountability that comes with it.  Companies should be allowed to take risks, but those risks should not jeopardize the liberties of individuals, present and future. Again, forcing future generations into action is a reduction of liberty for society.

At the forefront of the conversation must be energy. Many issues would be solved by a viable renewable energy infrastructure. A renewable energy grid viable in fifty years time seems like so little to ask until you consider the scope of the project and the necessary war against inertia. As compromise libertarians we must tackle these problems head on, lest our future generations have constrained liberties due to our laziness.

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