Sunday, October 2, 2016

Earth Loving Libertarian

The Hillary machine has turned its sights on Gary Johnson, reacting to how the Johnson/Weld ticket is drawing from young people and independents that Hillary was counting on in November.

And in what I've seen of this surge, most of the attacks feel like slanted presentation or the complete lack of understanding/acceptance of the libertarian philosophy as a whole.  Although these things don't sway me, the area I'm most unsure of my alignment with Gary has been exposed: his stance on the environment.

I resonate with the libertarian perspective because of how the philosophy is about reducing governmental power to its essential roles.  I see government's power as the seed of the discontent expressed by both the Tea Party and Occupy Wallstreet.  With Occupy Wallstreet and the Feel the Bern movement that followed, the finger is just pointed at the corporations that have co-opted that government power, but what if the government didn't have that power to hand out to its crony corporations?  Both movements, so often seen as opposites, point to the same oppressive corporatacracy, and in my view, it makes much more sense to go after the root of the power than to try to control its recipients.

And my libertarian leaning views have seemed to fit together like a neat little puzzle: keep government limited, reduce its money, reduce its influence on people's decisions that don't impact others, reduce its ability to empower special interests in their attempts to control and exploit the public.  But I really don't jive with my sense of the traditional libertarian platform on the environment.

On the Johnson/Weld website, there's a nice write up about stewardship and our role to care for the environment, but it really just seems like fluff.  And on the libertarian party website, there's a write up about further privatization of land and animals as the way, but that really does not resonate for me at all.  And as hard as I've been trying to find something a bit more concrete on how the Johnson/Weld administration would approach the environment, I just keep running into Mother Jones and other left publications trying to characterize him as someone who is uninformed and uncaring about the environment, a friend of dirty big business.  From what I know about Gary and his philosophy generally, I'm not buying that, but I also admit that I don't really know what goes in these blanks.

And all this got me thinking, where am I on these issues?  I don't feel an inconsistency or incompatibility between my view that we need to radically change our relationship with the Earth and my libertarian values, so how does it fit together? 

And I realized that I see the whole environmental realm as about harming and safety, not regulations and rules.  I agree with the main thing Gary has said - regulations and messing with the markets isn't the way to deal with our environment.  A carbon tax would help bring the environmental cost into the equation, and the tax credits help boost alternative energy, but I wonder if that approach is in scale with the solutions we need.  The regulatory approach leads surges in alternative energy, and then, we have some huge environmental disaster that pushes all that progress back.  We sign an agreement full of great commitments for a more sustainable future, and then they aren't kept and enforced at the national level.  It's just an ebb and flow that doesn't get to the essential heart of the problem.

We aren't honoring and respecting the Earth as a living being, the source of our lives and of life itself.  We see it as a commodity and our theories of property ownership and resource management just cement in the illusion that we can control, manipulate, and exploit this resource if we can call it "MINE."  We can even fix it if we really mess things up.  Privatization, as it relates to the Earth, natural resources, and animals is a big part of the problem in my view.

There's this faulty set of dysfunctional principles that have led to a lot of progress, but the utility of these theories is running out and will not sustain us.  Whether we have years, decades, centuries, or millennia until these principles lead to our self-destruction, I truly believe we are inevitably going that way and the only thing that will truly shift the course is a complete reordering of our priorities.

When I went to law school, my initial thought was that I would practice environmental law.  I took environmental law classes, spent a semester working in the environmental law clinic, and even initially accepted a job to work in that environmental law clinic after graduation.  Although I felt a strong pull toward protection of our environment and our natural resources, I found environmental law so frustrating, so much like banging my head against a wall.

The area of law itself felt so uninteresting and tedious to sift through, very different than say constitutional law or criminal law.  Try breezing through the Clean Water Act: pages and pages and pages of statutory sections with reporting requirements and picayune details that can only be mastered and understood by a whole team of people tunneling into them.  And just guess who knows these statutes and regulations the best?  Just guess where the most money is dedicated to mastery of environmental law and understanding how to navigate its maze?  Obvious, right?  It's the corporations trying to find the most affordable ways to remain in compliance, or at least only amass the fines that won't throw profits out of balance.

I deeply respect the work that passionate environmental lawyers are doing, and I think it's horrible that they are so often paid poorly and have so few resources available to support them in this important work.  And the further shame of the situation is that their hard work might give us a millimeter, a centimeter of progress.  And we don't need a centimeter; we need meter sticks upon meter sticks of progress.  I feel that moving on this scale set out by our regulatory approach just is not going to get us there.

Perhaps environmental protection actually belongs in our criminal code.  It's been a long while since I was involved in environmental law, but my understanding is that there are few small ties to the criminal code for egregious environmental infractions, but the vast majority of our environmental enforcement comes in the form of reporting requirements and fines.  This approach seems completely out of scale with the level of harm these activities have the potential to cause.

If you dump poisons on the Earth – it’s like pouring acid on human beings.  If you emit toxins into the air – it’s like releasing noxious chemicals in a crowd. It doesn’t matter if you do these things in your own back yard, just like it doesn’t matter if a victim is your own child. A living being is a living being, and it’s the government’s role (even under a libertarian philosophy) to protect safety.

We've criminalized the hell out of the things that people do to harm themselves and no one else, things that rise simultaneously with poverty and with the dangerous conditions on our streets, but we leave some of the most harmful things that are being done on the largest scales untouched by our criminal code.  If there were more criminal penalties for environmental misconduct, and if we defined environmental misconduct broadly enough to catch all the things that are degrading our environment and resources, all the financial resources now dedicated to navigating environmental regulations would be redirected into finding cleaner ways to operate.  The reason so much work is done to justify our environmental degradation is that even with the costs of polluting, it's still cheaper.

When we align the costs with the governmental response, we will see real change.  I recognize how radical this is in terms of infrastructure, jobs, and just overall feasibility, but when society really and fully sees the right thing to do, it does it, even in the face of immense inconvenience.

Just like the plantation owners had to restructure and reorient after the abolition of slavery, we too need to begin again without this faulty belief system that has set us on this course to our own extinction.

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