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Global Warming and Property Rights - A Reason Roundtable

Chris Mitchell
June 11, 2008, 7:16am

Should companies or countries that have contributed to global warming be required to compensate individuals directly impacted by climate change? Is global warming a threat to private property? The latest Reason Roundtable examines these questions from a couple of perspectives. Reason Foundation's Shikha Dalmia says libertarians "cannot treat the earth's thermostat as an enemy of freedom. Indeed, regardless of whether climate change eventually turns out to be real or not, the libertarian goal ought to be to ensure the protection and advancement of freedom - and all its attendant institutions: free markets, limited government and property rights. Jonathan Adler, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, writes, "The whole point of protecting property rights is to ensure that property owners control exercise of their own rights. If a property owner wishes to accept another's waste in return for compensation, that should be her choice. If not, then her right to refuse ought to be protected. Individual property rights should not be put up for a community vote or sacrificed as part of some utilitarian calculus. Libertarians readily accept this principle when government planners violate property rights in the name of economic development (think of the Supreme Court's landmark eminent domain decision, Kelo v. New London). Yet they seem to abandon their commitment to property rights when it comes to global warming...Given the potential impact of climate change on property rights, we ought to at least start thinking about policy measures that compensate affected parties without themselves posing a risk to individual liberty." Indur M. Goklany, author of the book The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, writes, "Not only is there no proven harm that can be specifically attributed to the warming, but, more importantly, even if there were such harm, a proper respect for property rights might preclude compensation...If only some countries had contributed to global warming and benefited from causing it while others had neither contributed nor benefited from it, there might have been an argument for compensation from one to the other. But that's far from the case. That every country is both a contributor and a beneficiary not only makes it infinitely more difficult to calculate who owes whom how much, it also vitiates anyone's moral standing for compensation - a normative commitment to property rights notwithstanding." Comment on the Reason Roundtable here. Reason Roundtable: Climate Change and Property Rights Previous Reason Roundtables Reason magazine's Climate Change Archive

Chris Mitchell is Director of Communications/Media Contact


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