Thursday, November 08, 2007

Carbon Offsets

Via the libertarians at Marginal Revolutions comes this website making fun of liberals who think carbon offsets are good:

At Cheatneutral, we believe that we should all try to reduce the amount we cheat on our partners, but we also realise that fidelity isn't always possible.

That's why we help you neutralise your cheating. Your actions are offset by a global network of fidelity, developed by us. By paying Cheatneutral, you're funding monogamy-boosting offset projects - we simply invest the money you give us in monogamous, faithful or just plain single people, to encourage them to stay that way.

Ha ha! Those stupid liberals! Seriously though, does anyone see the fatal flaw in this satire? Cheating is bad for the individuals involved but has little effect on society at large. Releasing carbon into the atmosphere has no immediate negative effects but hurts society. Offsets don't do anything to mitigate the immediate effects of something but could work at alleviating the cumulative evils. QED

I understand the importance of protecting the environment but I also believe in capitalism. That means that in my ideal world people would charged for the damage they do and that the rich would obviously be able to pay for more carbon than the poor. I see no problem with using offsets in a reasonably ingenious stop-gap effort while we try to set up a more market-based carbon-tax or cap-and-trade scheme.


Muggeridge said...

"Ha ha! Those stupid liberals!...I also believe in capitalism"

Enlightened self-interest is a hallmark of Liberalism. Capitalists are Liberals.

You must be an American.

Bret said...

Unfortunately, issues like this reveal the market asymmetry that orthodox Libertarianism has such a hard time dealing with.

I suppose the intelligent orthodox argument goes, "People should punish polluters by seeking out and buying only green products." Which of course, will get us from here to there in about 10,000 years.

What's hilarious about the post you link to is, the satire appears to suggest that all carbon releases are obviously immoral, and that people should voluntarily restrain themselves from the same. Makes me wonder what their approach to street crime is.

Personally, I think a strict interpretation of the ICC obviously allows for a carbon tax. The atmosphere crosses state lines just as clearly as a river or a freeway.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I think I'm getting confused here. There's libertarianism and then there's constitutional strict constructionism. You're making it sound like the two are one and the same but I don't know if they are. Libertarianism - if it is to be a coherent set of beliefs - needs to be able to make value judgments absent the specifics of the US constitution so I don't think you're allowed to argue that "it cross state lines so obviously government should step in" on libertarian grounds. That's a strict constructionist argument.

Bret said...

Libertarianism as a set of values is about the maximum amount of personal latitude for the maximum number of people. Of course, some structure is required to secure liberty. The procedural question is simply, 'What kind of structure, and how much'? The Constitution provides an excellent answer. That's the relationship between the value judgment and the legal document.

Bret said...

Let me follow up by addressing the concrete issue: the notion of 'latitude' is bound up with the notion of 'rights'. I should be allowed to do anything I want, as long as it doesn't harm others (this is an oversimplification of course).

As society advances, the notion of what constitutes harm will change. Air pollution used to be thought of as a blessed sign of progress. Now, it is thought of as a public menace. Since air polluters are harming others by a positive action, we should have every expectation that the government will step in, just as the government would step in if someone stole one dollar from every person in America.

The only remaining question under a Federal system is, "Which level of government should step in?" Since air pollution substantively crosses State borders, and the alternative is literally for New York to sue Ohio, the Federal Government has a clear mandate to do so, under Interstate Commerce.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Ok. I'm starting a new post.

Paul said...

It's not at all obvious to me what the grounds are for thinking that the Constitution was intentionally designed around libertarian principles. It seems to me much better described as federalist, which isn't at all the same thing.

Or, to put it another way, in your last comment you say the Constitution is concerned with telling us what level of government should step in to deal with a problem. But what does that have to do with libertarianism? The libertarian question is: Is this a problem government force is justified in addressing?

If libertarianism is compatible with vast, intrusive state and local governments, I'm not sure I see why we're calling it "libertarianism" at all.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Damn! You made Paul bring it on. Now it's been brought!