Global Warming and Property Rights

From our friends at The Commons comes an interesting debate. PERC’s Jonathan Adler started a discussion on the Free Market Environmentalism list-serve a few months ago that asked an important question: if we were to assume that anthropogenic emissions are indeed contributing to global warming, and if we accept that climate change would affect different regions in different ways (some beneficial, some negative), then, from a free market environmentalism (FME) perspective, what measures are justified to mitigate the negative effects?

If property rights lie at the heart of free market environmentalism, than FME advocates should think seriously about the normative implications of human-enhanced climate changes that could disproportionately harm those portions of the world that have (at least thus far) contributed least to the problem. Even if a modest warming were, on balance, beneficial, the impacts would not be uniform. It may well be, as some argue, that increases in crop productivity and reduced energy costs in temperate regions will be greater than the costs to tropical regions, but this does not address the property rights concern absent some system whereby industrialized nations would compensate or indemnify less-developed nations. No such system exists — nor is it likely that existing international institutions could implement such a system — but that does not mean it would not be the first-best approach to climate change from an FME perspective.

Check out the debate here, featuring heavy hitters such as Adler, Steven Hayward, Jane Shaw, and Julian Morris.