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In recent months, we have seen large-scale pollution drift from China to the USA (http://www.nature.com/news/emissions-from-asia-put-us-cities-over-the-ozone-limit-1.10161) and raise pollution levels in the USA.

Under Objectivist philosophy, there's no such thing as "public" land and therefore no "national pollution". The question I have is how Objectivists would think about the kind of pollution we clearly see from China drifting into the USA. Is there any remedy to this in an Objectivist world where the government would presumably have zero ability to influence Chinese industry to cease/modify their pollution?

If the prevailing winds move from West to East (as they do), why would the East Coast Chinese give a hoot about polluting the air since it blows away towards America anyway? This question is a small and concrete example of one I have asked many times before but received no satisfying answer to. While property rights talk about bits of the world being owned by people, I also see that all the little bits fit into a larger biosphere that is connected. What happens in one corner doesn't always stay in the corner. Sometimes it moves. When there is a clear injury (someone dumps paint thinner over the fence into your yard), there is clear reason to take up a court case against the polluter. But sometimes there is "diffuse injury" as in the case of the Chinese smog and it is far from clear what or even who to go to to remedy this ? I don't clearly understand how a more Objectvist society would help reducing this kind of "tragedy of the commons" type behavior and if so why?

asked Dec 21 '13 at 16:23

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


edited Dec 21 '13 at 17:31

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I have no idea of the facts surrounding the particular China-US issue, but I don't think there's anything in Objectivist philosophy which opposes international treaties. The limitation on the treaty would be that we shouldn't impose any pollution restrictions through treaties which it would be wrong to impose through domestic legislation were the issue a domestic one.

(Dec 21 '13 at 16:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

So if the USA signed a treaty like this and, say, Canada complained that pollution drift had caused massive problems in their country, how would an Objectivist government remedy the situation? The factories in question presumably generating the pollution would be privately owned and since there would be no emissions regulations or safety laws (recall that economy and government are separate), how could a government do anything to address Canada concerns?

(Dec 21 '13 at 16:33) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

No emissions regulations? "if a man creates a physical danger or harm to others, which extends beyond the line of his own property, such as unsanitary conditions or even loud noise, and if this is proved, the law can and does hold him responsible."

If Canada is a party to the treaty, then Canada should be able to insist that the US enact and enforce the laws required by the treaty. Those laws should be "appropriate and objective..., protecting the rights of all those involved". Again, we shouldn't promise to impose laws by treaty which it would be wrong to impose for a domestic problem.

(Dec 21 '13 at 16:35) anthony anthony's gravatar image

OK. I assume there are emissions regulations but since no one in China is harmed by the noxious emissions, why would be the Chinese care? Do we think that nations would/should curtail their own private producers because some other guy complains or is harmed?

(Dec 21 '13 at 16:42) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

To answer your first question second, people should care about harming others.

As far as why the Chinese would care, even assuming for the sake of argument that no one in China is harmed by the noxious emissions, all I can really say is that I don't know. Maybe they wouldn't care, and presumably this isn't a big enough issue that we'd want to go to war over, so maybe there's nothing we can do. On the other hand, maybe there's something that they'd want from us, and maybe we could negotiate that as part of the treaty. I think these details are beyond what Objectivism can tell us.

(Dec 21 '13 at 17:27) anthony anthony's gravatar image

They're even to a large extent beyond what I can imagine, because they assume as a premise that the US government is operating according to the principles of Objectivism. What would US-China relations look like in such a world? I don't know. Opening our borders to people who managed to escape from China would certainly bother the Chinese government.

All I can really say is that we should negotiate treaties according to our own best interests, and that we shouldn't impose, and shouldn't insist that anyone else impose, laws which would be unjust were the issue a purely domestic one.

(Dec 21 '13 at 17:30) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What if the US Citizens most affected by this pollution problem got together and funded a CIA program to convince a bunch of the top workers of these Chinese companies to escape from China (with CIA assistance) and come work in the United States? Chinese Atlas shrugs? If we got caught (and if the program was successful we probably would), would this escalate a cold war with China into an all-out bloody (maybe even nuclear) war?

I don't know. I'm not an expert in international diplomacy. But that's an example of something I think we could consider, and the question is whether or not it'd work.

(Dec 21 '13 at 17:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

International treaties can involve more than just two countries. So, there may be countries "upstream" of China that are emitting pollution that is affecting China, and so on. Therefore, it is in everyone's interest to create a multilateral treaty.

Note that you also have to unpack the concept of pollution. Not all "diffuse pollution", as you put it, is actually something that can, or should be, dealt with by governments. You could ask a separate question on that, if you like.

(Jan 07 '14 at 11:24) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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Asked: Dec 21 '13 at 16:23

Seen: 1,181 times

Last updated: Jan 07 '14 at 11:24