Statists often like to present their policies and programs as a free market solution. Emission trading, which Wikipedia calls a “market-based approach to controlling pollution,” is one example. Carbon emission trading assigns “property rights” to emissions, which allow the holder to emit a set quantity of a particular substance. Those who emit less of that substance than they are assigned can sell their “rights” to those who want to emit more.
Because this scheme utilizes “property rights” and involves trading, many view it as a free market solution to global warming. But such claims evade a fundamental difference between a free market and emission trading.
The essential characteristic of a free market is the freedom to produce and trade products and services without coercive interference from others. But freedom is precisely what is missing from emission trading.
Emission trading is founded on the premise that rights are granted by government. On that premise, individuals are not free to act as they judge best, but only as the government decrees appropriate. These so-called rights are actually permissions, which may be revoked anytime government deems it appropriate.
The solution to pollution is not some government mandated trading scheme. The solution is the recognition and protection of actual property rights.
An individual who damages another person’s property is morally liable for that damage. This is true whether the damage is caused by negligence on the road, vandalism, or the emission of pollutants. However, the damage must actually occur and be objectively proven.
Claims of potential harm are not grounds for legal culpability. In this were the case, then nobody should be allowed to drive a car, since every automobile trip involves the potential of an accident and harm to others. Indeed, virtually every interaction with others has the potential to do harm.
If property rights were recognized and protected, pollution would not longer be a contentious political issue. Property rights protect the freedom of individuals to create and use material values, so long as they respect the freedom of others to do the same. In a culture that recognizes property rights, individuals would be free to pollute, so long as they do not damage the property–including air and water–of others.
To learn how property rights can be applied to air and water, you can download Chapter 13 from my book, Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, by clicking here.