Evidence of global warming might be a "truth" most inconvenient to libertarians, who despise almost any amount of government intervention. When people steal, break contracts, or destroy other people's property, we believe that government has a role to play in arranging restitution. However, government involvement in those cases rarely involves more than two parties, and determination of guilt is generally clean, neat, and easily resolved. The reason why global warming presents such a fearsome threat to our philosophy is because, if true, a multitude of parties can affect so many others in difficult-to-measure ways. It is virtually impossible to determine the victims and the extent of victimhood from changes in climate patterns and melting icebergs.
If global warming sets in motion bizarre weather patterns, we'd have to calculate, who specifically caused the climate catastrophe, who directly suffered, and how to properly compensate those people, in the US, worldwide, and in future generations. Many would demand such an onerous amount of government regulation to prevent an amalgam of problems to nameless, faceless, human beings through economic restrictions, taxation, and compensation via the courts. If global warming exists, other countries would argue that we have a moral and legal obligation to prevent damage we are doing to their natural resources and populations. This would be because the exchange isn't voluntary, but involve death and destruction that are imposed on them.
In response to the scary implication that global warming has on our liberty, the response of fellow libertarians and libertarian-leaning Republicans has largely been to insist that global warming does not exist at all. This may be true. But, to maintain intellectual integrity, the von Mises Institute, Cato Institute, and Reason Magazine, must play a reasonable thought experiment: What if global warming does exist and indeed causes unwelcome destruction to other people's lives and livelihood? If it were true, could we still maintain that government has no role in regulating our actions? I am a medical student, and my most important oath is "Do no harm." Not, "must ensure that people are paid a minimum income" nor "must ensure that businesses don't make too much of a profit." But, "Do no harm," the linchpin of libertarianism.
If libertarian thinkers believe, as I do, that the government would have a role to play in climate change if climate change exists, then the only question that remains is whether it is indeed a scientifically measurable phenomenon, or a conspiracy theory invented by activist scientists and tree-hugging radicals. The evidence people can evaluate for themselves. But, as they pour through the research, they should keep in mind that libertarians represent people who value Reason above all (and even named their magazine in honor of this cherished value). Thus, even when concepts prove devastatingly inconvenient to our cause, we must accept them if they are true, and react to them accordingly. If we refuse to accept sound science in certain situations, we lose our standing as objective defenders of science and the scientific method. Additionally, if global warming is true, and we admit as such, we are the ideal group to develop proposals that are most economically sound, because we so understand the true danger of overreaction and excessive economic regulation. One libertarian think tank, the Prometheus Institute, has recognized this as such, and has even developed a carbon tax proposal. Perhaps it is time for the rest of we libertarians to think hard about good science, and to perhaps even go a bit green.
Corrigendum. The Week in Review. 03/26/2017
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