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effrenata @ 10:50 pm: Privatizing the Atmosphere
I've been thinking about free market solutions to global warming. It strikes me as a classic tragedy of the commons. Assuming that the global warming hypothesis is correct, the warming is produced by many small effects that are harmless individually and on a local scale, but which become harmful only cumulatively. The traditional libertarian solution for pollution, in which the polluter pays damages to the specific property owners who are affected, does not apply here because the effect is so diffuse. (To whom would a company owe damages for contributing one ten-millionth to global warming, for instance?)

I've been thinking about this could be handled by the free market. The idea I had was to privatize air. I don't mean privatizing the right to breathe, but privatizing the right to produce greenhouse gases. (Actually, human breathing does produce CO2, but, one would hope, the amount is negligible compared to that produced by mechanical means.) An international board of scientists would set standards for the maximum permissible percentage of hydrocarbons, CFCs & other pollutants in the atmosphere. Volumes of air would then be sold on the free market. The initial allocation could be determined by associating a "stack" of air with each lot of surface real estate (land and water). Each property owner would own the column of air above his land or water acreage. Companies could then trade air rights with other private owners. If the emissions produced by an owner exceeded the maximum amount for the volume of air owned, the owner would be subject to a fine. Emissions produced by vehicles would be factored into the air use of the manufacturer.

What are your thoughts on this idea? The main problem I see with it is the international agreement, and getting all the different countries to cooperate with the price and fine schedule. Is there a way that this sort of thing could be accomplished in a decentralized manner? Could an air market exist in an AnCap world?


[User Picture]
Date:November 19th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC)
one problem would be enforcement. Suppose I have coal and a match... who is going to force me to pay a tax on the CO2 released? A bunch of nerds on a science board? If the nerds have an enforcement arm and can tax, then they are defacto a government, even if their sole role is to defend property rights in air, they are still coercive.

Another problem I see is the initial allocation of air rights. Done by land area, denmark (which owns greenland) would own a huge amount of polluting rights, meanwhile hong kong would have to devote a large amount of resources to air rights to continue their lifestyle. Unless you are presupposing that the entire world is ancap and all land is privately owned. Which I think is a bogus assumption to base a theory of environmental allocation. It's like socialists working under the assumption that the entire world is socialist for socialism to work, its a bogus assumption.

Another flawed alternative is to allow current users to "homestead" the amount of pollution they are currently releasing. However this system rewards inefficient greenhouse gas releasing countries like india, china, and the US, at the expense of countries that are too poor to burn lots of coal, oil, and gas, such as angola, cameroon, and equitorial new guinea.

I think the "best solution" is techno-optimism. Techno-optimism works under the assumption that in a free environment humans are amazingly brilliant, productive, and adaptive. Thus if "global warming" turns out to be an actual problem, sure it may have been cheaper to prevent it, preventing global warming would require a coercive worldwide effort to reduce emissions, in short a government. Mitigating the effects will be actions such as seeding the upper atmosphere with light reflecting sulfates, carbon sequestration technology, and the move towards carbon free energy sources, such as fission, fusion, and solar.

some some thoughts.

Date:December 15th, 2005 01:45 am (UTC)
I agree with Atek on this one. You can't have any fines without becoming a government because you need an authority to impose the fine on someone. I don't know if I'd agree with techno-optimism, but I'm sure it works in most cases. You can think of an individuals life as an analogy for humanity. The individual may very well have the unconscious assumption that they are always going live. According to that persons conception of time this lasts for a very long time, but it does eventually end. Yes humanity has made it through many difficulties but we could fail some day. That conjecture isn't always safe.
[User Picture]
Date:April 9th, 2006 10:55 am (UTC)
Not to be an ass but well, what if I fart. And I'm not allowed to produce greenhouse gases. Furthermore, how does one homestead air. You really can't at this point.

Finally global warming is very real. Its also very natural.

I think the best solution in ancap world is to be able to prove that someone else pollution is affecting your land and the air immediatly on it. Then break their smog-belching crap or demand compensation (preferably the latter before the former.)
Date:February 17th, 2013 07:50 am (UTC)
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