Carbon Emission Is Not An Inalienable Right

Andrew Sullivan —  May 31 2012 @ 8:28pm


Jonathan H. Adler proposes a libertarian reason for fighting climate change:

It is a well established principle in the Anglo-American legal tradition that one does not have the right to use one's own property in a manner that causes harm to one's neighbor.  There are common law cases gong back 400 years establishing this principle and international law has long embraced a similar norm.  As I argued at length in this paper, if we accept this principle, even non-catastrophic warming should be a serious concern, as even non-catastrophic warming will produce the sorts of consequences that have long been recognized as property rights violations, such as the flooding of the land of others.

Ryan Avent fears that tribalism prevents action. Me too. The shift on the right against any acceptance of climate change, let alone a sane and pragmatic assessment of how to tackle it with minimal costs, has not been a rational one. That Adler has to use property rights as a way to persuade others is a sign of how degenerate American "conservatism" has become. When you feel no grief over a forest cut down or an old tree uprooted or a beloved beach eroded, you have ceased to be a conservative. When your response to the environment is solely instrumental – when you conceive it solely as something to be exploited rather than conserved – you are merely a capitalist. There are those who believe that conservatism is indistinguishable from capitalism. I am not one of them.

(Photo: David Painter, left, and Heather Linvelle walk under the shade of massive oak trees at the National Cemetery in Biloxi, Mississippi, Monday, May 28, 2012, prior to Memorial Day ceremony. By Tim Isbell/Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT via Getty Images.)