Young libertarians learn about Carbon Fee & Dividend
By Jim Tolbert
Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) brought 400 motivated and intelligent college leaders for liberty to Reston, Va. the last week of July, and I had the privilege of talking with them while manning a table for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
I had many interesting discussions with the students, and the Conservative Caucus will be following up with dozens of them to speak to their campus liberty groups or to tell them more about CCL. While tabling, I always tried to listen to what they thought about climate change as well as inform them about CCL’s work. I conveyed a sense of hope and spoke of the House Climate Solutions Caucus hitting 52 members. And though I critiqued other positions, I refused to criticize others—even if they didn’t agree with me.
The students at the meeting were intelligent and engaged. There were two other organizations tabling about climate change, and they both suggested we really should not do anything about climate change. When people asked me how I fit in with these other groups, I would often start with, “We are the group that thinks that the National Academies of Sciences of all of the G7 countries are right—that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gasses. And now that we understand that, we think we have an obligation to act on that knowledge.” More than one student said, “Oh, thanks for being here. I was a bit concerned when I was talking to the other group around the corner. I’ve been looking for a group that supports libertarian values and understands climate science.”
The libertarian perspective
Some of you might not know what libertarian thought leaders have said about environmental policy or even what libertarians believe. Frederic Bastiat summed it up nicely: “In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so?”
One way libertarians think of rights, which you may be aware of and maybe even studied in school, is in terms of negative rights and positive rights. Negative rights do not require the government to give you anything—just that the government let you live your life undisturbed. Examples of negative rights are scattered through the Bill of Rights in our Constitution: the right to free speech, the right to own a house without having the government quarter troops in my house, the right to own and bear arms, the right to be secure against unreasonable search. Taxpayers don’t fund my free speech, but I am guaranteed that I can speak my mind.
Other rights can be referred to as positive rights if they require that the government (and thus all taxpayers) do something for you. Some people call health care a right in our society—this requires that the government (e.g. all taxpayers) buy health care for you. If this is a right, it would be a positive right. Libertarians do not push back on all positive rights. If the government accuses you of a crime and you cannot afford an attorney, some libertarians agree with the positive right to have an attorney paid for by the government even if you end up being found guilty. But libertarians are generally skeptical of a broad and sweeping set of positive rights that must be paid for by taxpayers, such as health care and prescription medicines and water and food and shelter. Libertarians would rather have a limited set of negative rights and also have a responsibility to care for ourselves and to care for our neighbors as individuals, as we each see fit.
How Carbon Fee and Dividend fits in
Once we understand that our emissions impact other people’s lives, we need to come up with a rational approach that lets markets and people choose how they will respond. Carbon Fee and Dividend is an example of the government taking action to influence our behaviors. But Carbon Fee and Dividend distorts the market the least, compared to other options like CAFE standards, ethanol fuel requirements, state solar tax credits, and subsidies for specific fuels.
Inserting the price on CO2 emissions really does allow people to creatively figure out how they may respond—and we want people to make those decisions, not the government. They may invest or switch to wind and solar power, or nuclear power and energy efficiency, or they may just change their behavior. It is important for the government not to simply pick one of these possible choices to fund.
These students at YAL have really thought through their beliefs and seemed to understand the advantages of a Carbon Fee & Dividend. I hope you get some of these bright and energized college students stopping in to one of your meetings. If you are not libertarian, they may convert you. If you are libertarian, you will find many of them to be a breath of fresh air. And if you are progressive or a social democrat, you may find them a solid ally as we work together toward a market-based solution for climate change.
Jim Tolbert recently came on board as CCL’s Conservative Director, responsible for growing our conservative volunteer base, helping volunteers work with conservative audiences, and guiding the activities of CCL’s Conservative Caucus.