Brad Plumer at the Washington Post interviews law professor Jonathan Adler, who believes that property rights can form a basis for sustainability:
Then various countries started to experiment with property-based fisheries management, and we got superior economic and environmental results. The United States has now begun to move in that direction and the results are significant.
That story to me points out several things. One is to never ignore the fact that any regulatory intervention won’t work if we don’t pay attention to the way it alters incentives. And two, the gold standard of how to align incentives is to replicate what a fairly complete system of property rights would produce.
He manages to turn the climate debate on its head:
Even most skeptics believe, for instance, that there will be some degree of sea-level rise — they might not think it’s catastrophic, but they’ll concede it exists. And over hundreds of years of common-law tradition, we’ve recognized that flooding a neighbor’s land is a property right’s violation.
So if there’s a conservative commitment to property rights, you can’t ignore climate change by saying Al Gore is exaggerating or that it’s inefficient or too costly to deal with it. Folks on the right didn’t say it was wrong to take Kelo’s land because it was inefficient. It was wrong because it was her land!
He comes out for a revenue neutral carbon tax, Hansen style.
I think that idea will never fly, because the gridlock of American politics is not really based on a philosophical differences. Those are a proxy for a culture war between rural and urban worldviews. The side waving the “conservative” colors is the rural one, for whom coherence is not really a core value in the first place.
A carbon tax transfers wealth from rural to urban areas.
I oppose a carbon tax because it would exacerbate the culture wars. The American right will find some excuse to oppose it, because the actual interests of its constituents overwhelms its philosophical posturing.
“Property rights” sell in rural areas, of course, and the whole overvaluing of real estate results from a frontier mentality. But the principle is not what the red/blue divide is about at all. The cultural divide forms the principles, despite all the posturing that it goes the other way. Thus, philosophical coherence is not the real motivator of voting patterns in the US. So although a carbon tax is based in conservative principles, I expect that most American conservatives will continue to oppose it anyway because it is against their interests.
How to come up with a climate strategy that respects and appeals to the rural culture is hard to imagine at this point, but the philosophical coherence of a carbon tax won’t do the trick.