I shall begin at the beginning.
Assume that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is true. Assume, also, that CO2 emissions from humans, animals, factories, automobiles, industry, & in nature are the sole, direct, & immediate cause of global warming of the planet. Assume also, as the global-warming gang likes to remind everyone incessantly & repeatedly, that the problem is so severe that in the next decade or so massively rising sea levels, unprecedented hurricanes & tsunamis, mass extermination of species are imminent, & that the very existence of planet earth is in peril.
Even if all of the above assertions were true, does a democratic, constitutionally limited government, have a role, any role, to play in response to the above? I ask this question from a legal perspective, from a division & limitation of powers perspective. Does a constitutionally limited government, based on a strict separation of powers, have any constitutional authority, to combat climate change & save the planet? Governments, based on doctrines of natural human rights, are instituted among men to secure those rights & to secure the ‘blessings of liberty.’ Freedom, in a political context, can & does mean one & only one postulate. Freedom is freedom from coercion from other men, including, the freedom from coercion from governments that men institute. Freedom means & implies freedom for the individual, freedom at an individual level. A political constitution, such as the United States Constitution, is a charter to place limitations on the government. It is to strictly define what a government may do, but more importantly, what a government may not do.
Taking the United States Constitution as a valid frame of reference, nowhere in the constitution is there an explicit reference to the federal or the state governments’ role in preserving the environment, combating climate change, or saving the planet from global warming or cooling. The constitution also clearly states in the 10th Amendment that –
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Therefore, one could make the argument that since the United States Constitution does not grant the federal government any power to combat climate change, the responsibility lies with individual states. However, each state of the United States is also governed by a state constitution & no state constitution gives any state the power to save the environment, or combat climate change, or save the planet.
It is improper to make the argument that, assuming the anthropogenic theory of global warming is true, governments have the right to regulate carbon emissions to save the planet. Breathing, the most basic, automatic activity crucial for human survival, is a form of carbon emission. To state that some men ought to curb on their breathing, some of the time, so that the planet can live longer is to make a mockery of individual rights, individual freedom, & to invert & pervert the very purpose of instituting a democratic, constitutionally limited government among men.
A similar logic applies to industrial activity. A basic fact of modern life is that technological progress, a rising standard of living, & an increase in life expectancy is a direct result of industry & production. To place any curbs on industrial activity, in the name of curbing carbon emissions, would be suicidal, not in the long run but in the immediate short term. To state that some curbs on industry are needed now in order to save an overheating planet is to state & confess that humans ought to end their lives now, in the immediate future, because in the coming future an overheating planet is going to eradicate all life anyway. This not a solution to an alleged problem of an overheating planet. This is unbridled hatred of human life, human progress, human achievement, human joy, & human happiness disguised in doom-predicting, flawed, computer simulations. Anyone serious about preserving the planet, including human fecundity & prosperity, ought to be advocating for greater industrialization across the planet, not less.
I have reproduced a chart below on life expectancy that traces this trend from 1770 till the present. It is evident that greater industrialization means an increase in how long one can expect to live –
With this context in mind, I want to discuss the issue of environmental liability arising out of human activity with a particular focus on industrial activity. The guiding principle, in a free society, governing human activity remains a constant – no man may initiate the use of force against another & fraud is a form of force. Perhaps the best way to go about explaining this is by illustration.
1. A chemical plant in an industrial park witnesses an explosion. There is an immense cloud burst of noxious fumes. The fumes are so intense & poisonous that half the surrounding populace is affected, taken ill, & some die. This is a clear case of criminal negligence or sabotage. The company that owns the plant would be held liable & ought to be punished to the extent of the negligence.
Now consider a twist in this matter. The chemical plant is located in the same industrial park. The industrial park is owned by a corporation that leases this park to various chemical concerns. This is a ‘chemical industry only’ industrial park. The corporation that owns the industrial park sets the terms & conditions for lease. One of those conditions is that in the event of a mishap, disaster, or accident, the lessee concern shall have no liability towards the industrial park or towards other lessees. Such mishaps may also include loss of life. Every worker, in turn, is bound by the same condition that in the event of a mishap inside the industrial park by any of the lessees, no worker shall have right to any claim or compensation in the event of injury or loss of life. In a laissez faire society, such a contractual agreement would be upheld & enforced. Why? Because each signatory to this contract from the lessees to the workers signed a voluntary agreement as adults & with the capacity to understand what they were signing into. In this case, coming back to the original explosion, the lessee on whose premises the explosion occurred has no liability whatsoever according to this agreement. It owes no compensation to the workers in the industrial park for injury & loss of life. Likewise, it owes no compensation to other lessees for destruction or loss of equipment.
Consider an extension of this scenario. The industrial park is located in pristine wilderness so that the nearest human habitation is hundreds of miles away. It is ascertained that the fallout of the explosion would stretch to only a few miles beyond the industrial park. There is no way that the noxious fumes could travel hundreds of miles to reach the nearest human habitation. Does the lessee concern, on whose premises the explosion took place, owe any compensation to the nearest human habitation? Clearly not, since it is unlikely that anyone in the nearest human habitation would have been affected.
However, it is determined that the noxious fumes, resulting from the explosion, have completely destroyed the wilderness for a few miles around. The fumes, being partially acidic in nature, have destroyed trees, grass, weeds. The fumes, having settled on the surface of a small, contained lake nearby, have made the water in the lake unfit for irrigation or for human consumption, or for animal consumption. A few dead bodies of animals have also been uncovered. Birds have died, including spotted owls. Dead animals include deer, wild buffaloes, elephants, giraffes, & zebras. It is important to stress here that outside of the industrial park, there was no human presence. The lake was not being used for any human purpose. The wild animals were wild, that is unowned & undomesticated. No logging company owned any rights to the trees around the industrial park that were affected by the explosion. Is the company, on whose premises the explosion took place, liable in any way? The environmentalists would argue that the company is liable for destroying the surrounding ecosystem. They would argue that any disruption of the natural ecosystem by any industrial activity, taken collectively, has the cumulative effect of destroying & imperiling the very state of the planet. They would go on to argue that even without an accident, any industrial activity, taken collectively, is harmful to nature, to the ecosystem, & to the very existence of all life on earth. On the basis of this reasoning, they would reach the conclusion that man is the real enemy of nature, that man is a virus that never should have come into being, that it is man who has to be eradicated, if nature, the ecosystem, & planet earth is to be preserved. But a laissez-faire society is brought into existence to secure the rights of man. A laissez-faire society recognizes that man is as much a part of nature as any other species on earth. A laissez-faire society recognizes that man is the rational animal. A laissez faire society accepts that man has to apply his reason upon nature to suit his purpose. A laissez-faire society recognizes that in order to survive, thrive, & flourish on this earth, man needs to be left free to think & to act upon his thinking. A laissez-faire society recognizes that industrial activity is the result of man’s thinking applied to the problem of production. On a laissez-faire premise, it is natural for man to exploit nature & disrupt the ecosystem. On a laissez-faire premise, it is natural for man to command nature in order to suit his purpose. On a laisse-faire premise, man’s proper relationship to nature can be summed up as follows – “Nature to be commanded must be obeyed.” In a laissez-faire society, the company would not be liable for an alleged environmental damage. There would no liability through its actions, because no actual human was harmed. Those employees & workers who were harmed or injured had a contractual agreement that shields the company from exactly such liability. As novelist & philosopher, Ayn Rand, puts it –
“In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.
Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body-wrecking ordeal. In “nature,” the struggle for food, clothing and shelter consumes all of a man’s energy and spirit; it is a losing struggle—the winner is any flood, earthquake or swarm of locusts. (Consider the 500,000 bodies left in the wake of a single flood in Pakistan; they had been men who lived without technology.) To work only for bare necessities is a luxury that mankind cannot afford.
City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem—not a political one—and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.”
Today, the environmentalists do not demand getting rid of city smog or filthy rivers. Today, they demand the complete shut-down of industry on the pretext of reducing or completely ending carbon emissions in order to prevent an overheating planet & rising sea levels. As Ms. Rand states, a shutdown of industry means wholesale death, not in the long term, not gradually, not over one generation, but now, tomorrow, day-after, this month. This is the seriousness of the impossible, environmental demand on industry of reducing carbon emissions. As was stated in the beginning of this article, even if it were true that carbon emissions were a threat to the planet (which it isn’t), any curb on industrial activity means death by starvation, death by disease, death by any natural phenomena including floods, earthquakes, & locusts, but not death by an overheating planet.