A Libertarian Proposal to Address Climate Change and Start a Consumer-Driven Green Revolution

Friday, The New York Times highlighted Frederic Parrenin from the University of Grenoble who — by examining ancient air bubbles in Antarctic ice — has concluded that the end of the last ice age tracked rising carbon dioxide levels even more closely than climate scientists previously believed. Parrenin's work supports the idea that increased amounts of carbon dioxide spurs global warming and puts pressure on humans to limit their use of fossil fuels in order to avert the effects of global warming.

If we take as truth that man is contributing to global warming, the next step is to find solutions. And taking a libertarian approach — or an approach that relies on free markets and voluntary exchange, not government — could undoubtedly find effective solutions by relying on entrepreneurs to find create solutions demanded by consumers.

There is one caveat, however. For a libertarian approach to work, consumers must actually demand solutions to climate change.

The Obama administration's recent track record in supporting "green" industries suggests government is not the best way to find sustainable climate change solutions. Take, for instance, the administration's support for solar panel maker Solyndra, whose failures have cost taxpayers as much as $535 million in loan guarantees. Or Inland Empire Oilseeds, a Washington State based bio-diesel producer now facing bankruptcy after the federal government stopped propping it up with subsidies. Even General Motors (GM) was forced to lay off 1,300 workers charged with producing the Chevy Volt, because consumers simply didn't want to buy the electric car. GM spokesman Chris Lee admitted as much, saying the company "needed to … make sure (GM) continued to meet market demand," in the cars it produced.

Why the failures? Government, although it has shown its willingness to take taxpayer dollars to fund its favored "green" projects, cannot make consumers demand the solutions that it creates.

Entrepreneurs, however, must produce what consumers will actually buy. If they fail, they go out of business. This absence of government support allows valued ideas to survive, and unvalued ideas to perish. Markets, then, can produce sustainable climate change solutions that will be supported through consumer demand.

In order for this approach to work, however, consumers must be convinced that they truly want to support climate change solutions. This would put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of green energy proponents, and their success would depend on their ability to convince consumers that they should give up their current lifestyles that revolve so much around fossil fuels for their favored alternative.

So would a libertarian approach yield real green solutions? Any green solution that completely eschews fossil fuels would face a tough road, particularly given the discovery of vast amounts of fossil fuels that will continue to provide consumers with affordable energy. But the best thing about a libertarian approach is that fossil fuel opponents would have every opportunity to convince consumers they should abandon fossil fuels for a more green approach, they just wouldn't be able to have government force their "green" approaches on everyone else.