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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

user890's gravatar image


No, no, and no. To regulate high-level CO2 emissions you would need to show specific harm caused by specific levels of CO2 emissions, not mere aggregate climate change.

(Feb 10 '13 at 20:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I think the questioner is saying if specific harm is proven at those level of CO2, should we do anything about it.

For example, if scientist say the 50% of earth will be covered in water due to X level of CO2, is to proper to curtail that?

(Feb 10 '13 at 21:11) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

First of all, I mean specific harm to people, not to "the climate" or "the earth".

Secondly, I said "caused by specific levels of CO2 emissions".

If a scientist can objectively prove that by driving my car I am the but-for cause of a flood to my neighbor's house, yes, we should do something about that. If instead they prove that 500 million people driving 500 million cars will cause 500 million houses to flood, I'm not so sure. (Not to mention if they can merely show that driving 500 million cars causes 5 million houses to flood, which is probably closer to a realistic worst-case.)

(Feb 10 '13 at 21:21) anthony anthony's gravatar image

By the way, much more than 50% of the earth is already covered by water.

Now raise that to, say, 80% of the earth, set X low enough so that it is something we reasonably can avoid, and ignore all the positive effects of climate change, and maybe there's an argument.

But this is a much different question from "if man-made climate change is proven correct".

I believe man-made climate change has been proven correct: I believe there is global warming, and I believe it has been caused in part by man. I also believe that short of going back to the stone age it is unstoppable, though.

(Feb 10 '13 at 21:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The Objectivist morality supports laissez-faire capitalism to its fullest extent, so any government regulation or tax should remain off the table (we all know why). My suggestion would involve lawsuits brought out by individuals directly affected by pollution created by a business. If dozens or more are affected, perhaps even a town, then the company would have to compensate everyone affected after the lawsuit (assuming the town wins). This would hopefully inspire other businessmen to attempt to be more responsible or improve technology for alternative means of production, energy, etc.

(Feb 10 '13 at 22:34) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

I don't even agree that any government regulation should remain off the table, let alone know why. There's nothing wrong with objective, rights-respecting, regulations. But mere "climate change" is not the proper basis.

"In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals." (emphasis in original)

Pollution is one thing. Slightly higher average global temperatures is quite another.

(Feb 10 '13 at 22:45) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I wrote my comment on the assumption that we on Objectivist Answers understood that any government regulation on private markets involved violating the rights of individuals. There are many reasons as to why the Earth's climate shifts here and there. To be honest, I took a meteorology class at the college I attend, and it was taught by a weatherman on TV. He said that global warming is most definitely not what the media hypes it up to be.

(Feb 10 '13 at 23:10) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

While the effects of CO2 emitted from man-made activities are there, it is infinitesimal compared to much larger variables such as the Earth's shifting orbit, as described in this video.

(Feb 10 '13 at 23:15) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

I'm not sure what "government regulation on private markets" means. It is government regulation which enables private markets.

Yes, there are many reasons for the changes in the Earth's climate. And man is certainly one of them.

Also very true about the media hype. Although the opening of the Northwest Passage is perhaps an underhyped aspect.

One major difference between global warming and pollution is that global warming is going to present a large number of positives along with the large number of negatives.

(Feb 10 '13 at 23:18) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I see your point. I tend to look at government regulations as "You can't do that" and "You have to do it this way" directives, in which the government tries to run the company even though they know nothing about running the business.

(Feb 11 '13 at 07:48) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image
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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%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

However, Ayn Rand says that "If the condition is collective, such as in an overcrowded city, appropriate and objective laws can be defined."

(Feb 12 '13 at 15:29) user890 user890's gravatar image

That's a really good answer, John, but I think you slipped somewhere. What if nobody does anything about the problems that not only affect him, but everyone else? What if production doesn't take into account the effects it has on itself and other countries? I would like to say the government should still stay out of the way, and assume that the entrepreneurs and businessmen will act in a moral fashion, but what it they don't? What would happen if they're the leading innovators in a field of economy?

(Feb 12 '13 at 17:13) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

If they're the leaders of a certain necessary market, I cannot buy that product from anyone else. This happens in certain countries like China, where the government controls everything, despite the appearance of free market principles.

(Feb 12 '13 at 17:15) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

There's the issue of irrevocable problems. If some problems would cause massive death via flooding in the future (eg clear cutting forests), I am not sure that "hands off" is the very best approach. After all we are rational beings and humanity is a value not only today but in the future. "Do whatever now and who cares about the future" is not a solid long-range approach. Leaving future generations dumps of nuclear waste for example doesn't seem like a good or moral thing to do. Taken to its extreme, the approach advocated here could leave our kids with nothing but trash and problems.

(Feb 15 '13 at 18:09) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

How would clear cutting forests cause massive death via flooding?

Global warming is a very slow process, causing sea level rise on the order of a few millimeters per year. There's no evidence of anything remotely close to "massive death via flooding".

Even if you could scientifically prove that there is going to be future flooding, you wouldn't have the massive death, because the flooding wouldn't be a surprise, and people would move.

It's absurd to talk about massive death via flooding when discussing CO2 emissions.

(Feb 17 '13 at 08:09) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Flooding is just one problem. Read http://www.dbs.nus.edu.sg/lab/cons-lab/documents/Bradshaw_etal_Glob_Change_Biol_2007.pdf and http://www.articlesphere.com/Article/Harmful-Effects-of-Deforestation/84388 for pointers. Deforestation tends to allow topsoil to wash away and rain falling on rocks has little to hold it. This leads not only to p flooding but also degrades the ability of land to support crops (see island of St. Helena). The point that people would move is all fine until it becomes a global problem. You don't move all of Africa to Greenland when it becomes too hot to live in Africa.

(Feb 17 '13 at 13:55) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Too hot to live in Africa?

This question is about CO2 emissions. If you want to talk about something else, start a new question/thread.

(Feb 18 '13 at 20:43) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I assume you know how greenhouse gases work from a scientific perspective? If you don't, please do read up on it. The hotter parts of this planet could become even more miserable in a global warming scenario. Africa could see massive droughts and other such events. Thus the observation that people justpulling up stakes and moving is not practical if the CO2 warming gets extreme.

(Feb 18 '13 at 21:48) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

At least now you're talking about "miserable" weather rather than deadly floods and uninhabitable continents.

But why is it not practical for people to migrate over the course of a few centuries?

(Feb 19 '13 at 17:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Feb 10 '13 at 17:21

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Last updated: Feb 19 '13 at 17:52