Suppose it is scientifically proven that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, primarily due to industrial activity and burning of fossil fuels, contributes to extreme weather patterns (e.g. stronger hurricanes, blizzards, floods, etc). Since this type of weather poses an objective threat to human livelihood, would the government be protecting individual rights by restricting (or reducing) the use of fossil fuels? Ayn Rand briefly talks about this concept in the excerpt under "Pollution" in the Lexicon; however, she talks about pollutants. Can CO2 be deemed a pollutant if, at high enough levels, it causes climate change?
PLEASE NOTE: I know that anthropogenic climate change is highly disputed, but I want the person who is answering to assume that this dispute has been resolved for the most part.
asked Feb 10 '13 at 17:21
Here's an analogy.
Say there's a neighborhood where there are very few houses. Its beautiful there. Lots of trees and a very nice view for everyone who has a house.
Then other people move in. Each person who builds a house makes the view a little less nice for everyone who lives there.
Would it be right for government to forbid more people from building houses there just because it is "proven" that the "view would be terrible" if the entire place was built up?
The area is not owned by the government. It's owned by the land-owners. As more people move in, the property values go down (presumably all these people care about is "the view" and not the proximity to other productive individuals).
How is it the government's business to prevent each new resident from improving his life even if the result is to slightly diminish the quality of everyone else's life?
All that the environment is is the conditions under which people must live. No person has a right to a climate of a particular type. Over time, if the actions of people alter the climate, that just creates a new environmental situation which people must adapt to.
The change of climate is so gradual that there's no use trying to stop it, especially if people value the things they use which happen to alter the climate. If the climate gets too hot for someone, they have ample time to move to a colder place, or to buy an air-conditioner.
The improvement of human life should not be limited by some concrete requirement that the climate not change. Freedom for present-day people living on Earth is much more important than making sure that the people of the future won't have certain kinds of problems. We cannot predict what kinds of future problems will be easy to deal with and which will be hard to deal with. We shouldn't waste our time trying to solve future problems unless there's a present-day market for the solution. And we certainly shouldn't force present-day people to sacrifice their quality of life for people who have not yet even been born.
Unless you directly harm an actual living human being, you should not be stopped. If harm can only be detected in aggregate, that means that everybody is at fault, and so no particular person should be stopped before anyone else. If it's true that everybody is altering the climate, that should then be viewed as a metaphysical fact, not something we should be forced to stop.
It is not the job of government to predict the future and prevent it. It's the job of individuals to produce things of value to actual people living in the environment they happen to be living in. Whatever problems we create for the people of the future, their own productiveness will find a solution for. That will be their job.
answered Feb 12 '13 at 14:30
John Paquette ♦