I've noticed a disconnect between the seeming cultural hugeness of global warming anxiety and how comparatively absent it has been from presidential politics this season. Ron Paul, who totally avoids this stuff in his standard stump speeches, is called on to explain free-market approaches to environmental problems in this Salon interview (which originally ran last month at the enviro mag Grist.)
Interviewer Amanda Griscom Little sums him up, with a bit more respect than I would have expected:
Some of those ideas arguably have environmental merit. Paul is known for his zealous opposition to the Iraq war, which he duly notes causes pollution and the "burning of fuel for no good purpose." He wants to yank all subsidies and R&D funding from the energy sector, which many believe would benefit the growth of renewables. A cyclist himself, he has cosponsored bills that would offer tax breaks to Americans who commute by bicycle and use public transportation. Still, his libertarian presidency would, among other things, allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, boost the use of coal, and embrace nuclear power. Moreover, it wouldn't do diddly about global warming because, Paul reasons, "we're not going to be very good at regulating the weather."
Excerpt from Paul's own comments, sounding like a classic old-school Rothbardian:
Imagine that everyone living in one suburb, rather than using regular trash service, were taking their household trash to the next town over and simply tossing it in the yards of those living in the nearby town. Is there any question that legal mechanisms are in place to remedy this action? In principle, your concerns are no different, except that, for a good number of years, legislatures and courts have failed to enforce the property rights of those being dumped on with respect to certain forms of pollution. This form of government failure has persisted since the industrial revolution when, in the name of so-called progress, certain forms of pollution were legally tolerated or ignored to benefit some popular regional employer or politically popular entity.
When all forms of physical trespass, be that smoke, particulate matter, etc., are legally recognized for what they are—a physical trespass upon the property and rights of another—concerns about difficulty in suing the offending party will be largely diminished. When any such cases are known to be slam-dunk wins for the person whose property is being polluted, those doing the polluting will no longer persist in doing so. Against a backdrop of property rights actually enforced, contingency and class-action cases are additional legal mechanisms that resolve this concern.
To the extent property rights are strictly enforced against those who would pollute the land or air of another, the costs of any environmental harm associated with an energy source would be imposed upon the producer of that energy source, and, in so doing, the cheap sources that pollute are not so cheap anymore.
And global warming? Maybe we've got more immediate concerns, Paul says:
If you study the history, we've had a lot of climate changes. We've had hot spells and cold spells. They come and go. If there are weather changes, we're not going to be very good at regulating the weather.
To assume we have to close down everything in this country and in the world because there's a fear that we're going to have this global warming and that we're going to be swallowed up by the oceans, I think that's extreme. I don't buy into that. Yet, I think it's a worthy discussion….I think war and financial crises and big governments marching into our homes and elimination of habeas corpus—those are immediate threats. We're about to lose our whole country and whole republic! If we can be declared an enemy combatant and put away without a trial, then that's going to affect a lot of us a lot sooner than the temperature going up.