How can a libertarian condone pollution?

March 10, 2023 by Joshua
in Freedom, Nature

I don’t know if any organizations speak for most libertarians, but I’ve been reading the pages What is a libertarian? from and the Platform of the Libertarian Party.

The former begins

Libertarians believe that, in politics, liberty is the most important value. Almost everyone wants freedom for themselves, but a libertarian also seeks to protect and expand the freedom of others.

When people are free, we can create a more just, more prosperous, safer, and better world for everyone.

and continues

A libertarian is committed to the principle that liberty is the most important political value. Liberty means being free to make your own choices about your own life, that what you do with your body and your property ought to be up to you. Other people must not forcibly interfere with your liberty, and you must not forcibly interfere with theirs.

The latter says

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life — accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action — accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property — accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

The pages write a lot more. Neither mentions pollution, but I don’t see how, if I pollute your environment, I have infringed on your life, liberty, and property, as much as if I punched you in the face, if not as directly.

I think we have taken for granted that pollution would go away, something like “the solution to pollution is dilution,” but that belief is wrong.

Nothing about life requires pollution. Humans lived for 300,000 years without polluting until a few centuries ago. Our modern world would look different if we stopped allowing people to pollute other people’s environment, but there’s no reason to think it would be worse.

Tribalism Versus Values

Politics in the U.S. are tribal these days. People choose politics by the group they belong to more than their values. If libertarians believe government should protect people’s life, liberty, and property, I don’t see how they can allow pollution.

If you want to fly, I don’t see a problem if you get the fuel from your back yard, but if you get it from nearly any oil extracting region, you’re funding coercion. Also, the exhaust from the plane would have to be funneled back into the plane so the people causing the pollution would be the only ones suffering from the destruction of life, liberty, and property.

Likewise with cars, it seems libertarian principles would require that your car’s fuel would have to come from your property and the exhaust would have to stay in your car, not just for the drive, but for all time.

If those things aren’t possible, maybe they aren’t compatible with libertarian values. There are lots of things we can do but we decide not to do. I’m not saying these things violate only libertarian values, but they’re what I’m writing about here. Pollution and imperialism seem to violate conservative and liberal values too.


Humans have lived for centuries without accounting for how pollution deprives others of life, liberty, and property. This country has regions called Cancer Alley and Sacrifice Zones. How can a libertarian sanction such destruction?

Just because we thought the pollution would go away doesn’t mean we should continue operating under this wrong belief. Pollution is not necessary for life. Correct me if I’m wrong but libertarian values must oppose pollution.

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