A friend on Twitter asked me a to comment on the idea of what would happen if we had anarchy and someone wanted to cut down all the trees. She then went on to say that she was concerned about the environment and how that would be handled in the absence of government. I don’t claim to be an expert or fortune teller but I will give my thoughts on environmental issues and government.
This issue reminded me of the day I was sitting with my father sometime in the 70s watching a special on TV about the polluted environment and how we needed to clean it up. They showed various companies and were using the examples to show how we needed stronger laws to make all those dirty bastards clean up. I made some comment on how those companies were just terrible for doing that sort of thing to the environment and that they needed to be sued. My dad was a union member and a Democrat so I was surprised when he said that the biggest despoiler of the environment was the Government. He cited the government installations at Oak Ridge, Tennessee as his main example and then he went on to talk about all the cites that were dumping raw sewage into the Tennessee river at the time. There are numerous other examples. (or see here)
Over the years many people have pointed out the huge environmental mistakes of the governments around the world. It turns out that the stronger the government the worse the government is for conservation of the environment. Even if anarchy is not perfect, the record says that government is a far greater danger.
Now after five decades of observing the greens, it looks like the “environmentalist” is often just a communist hiding behind a green facade. The best description I have seen is “a watermelon; green on the outside, red on the inside”. They hate free market capitalism and private property with an unbridled passion and use the environment as their stalking horse. In contrast to the watermelons, a conservationist is one who is genuinely concerned about conserving natural resources. I have been a conservationist all my life.
I believe we should be good stewards of the earth’s bounty. The question is: how can we best accomplish that goal while remaining free, peaceful, and prosperous? There seems to be two essential claims of the environmentalists. They say that continued economic progress is impossible because of the impending exhaustion of natural resources. Peak oil is just one specific example of this. The slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” that some use is an example of this sort of thinking. The other claim is that continued economic progress is destructive of the environment and we must return to a more primitive time even though that might mean the death of billions of people now alive on this planet.
The essential policy prescription of the environmental movement is the prohibition of free and self-interested individual action. They want to make the government strong and dictatorial. Heck, they want the return of the USSR. The leading example of this policy prescription at the present is the attempt to force people to give up all sorts of things due to the fraudulent claims that CO2 is a poison that will destroy life on this planet. They want to force individuals to give up such things as their automobiles and air conditioners on the ridiculous idea that they cause catastrophic, runaway global warming that will melt the ice at the poles and drown us all. This same example is just the present leading chicken little scenario of the alleged dangers of economic progress but there have been many others and there will be more once the claims of global warming fall to observations of the real world.
Scientific and technological progress will render some “basic necessities” obsolete as progress continues. After all, do you burn whale oil in lamps to read by at night? Besides, new technologies have us swimming in oil and natural gas as I write this. Nature presents the earth as an immense solidly packed ball of resources and it has also provided comparably incredible amounts of energy in connection with this mass of chemical elements. Given laissez-faire freed markets, man’s ingenuity, and scientific progress we will continue to provide goods and services sufficient to meet our needs.
OK, OK; but what about all those trees that my friend was worried about?
In an anarchy where the resources are owned by some individual or group of individuals, the incentive is to conserve the resource, just like companies try to maintain all their capital equipment now. Since strong government is the recipe for environmental disaster, it follows that the less of it the better. No individual or company would destroy all the trees since that would destroy their income. It is to their economic advantage to conserve the product they sell. Besides the incentives involved, there is also the spectre of millions of people boycotting these companies if it became common knowledge that they were despoiling the environment.
To me the main point is how would a polluter by handled by private libertarian courts in a market anarchist world. It is obvious that anyone whose property was despoiled due to the polluter’s actions would be able to sue the pants off the bastards and get restitution. At some point the polluter will clean up his act or else the people that he wrongs will end up owning his business and stop it themselves. Is this perfect? No, there has to be pollution first, an aggrieved party to bring lawsuit, and only then restitution. But that beats hell out of the present highly corrupt and inefficient system that favors the large corporations who pollute rather than the people who have to live with the pollution.
For a more detailed (and long) account of how the free market protects the environment see here.
When backed by effective liability laws, private property rights tend to work well. Because well-tended property increases its value, private owners generally take care not to despoil their land.
This safeguard works even when owners care only for themselves, not for their heirs. For at the very first signs of poor stewardship–the first indications of land erosion, for instance–appraisers and potential buyers can project the results into the future, and the value of the property declines immediately.
With an effective liability system, these pressures can also keep corporations from despoiling land or property that they do not own. Although disputes occur, the obligations of those who harm others’ property are so widely accepted that many people do not even have to go to court when their cars are damaged: insurance companies generally handle such cases routinely.
Until man’s nature changes and he becomes like the angels, we will not see a Utopia on earth and we will not see everyone act just as we wish they would; but the closest we will come is by a system that encourages free-will, voluntary cooperation among men: anarchy in other words.