Voluntaryism and Pollution

Voluntaryism and Pollution

The Voluntaryist view on the concept of pollution is wholly rooted in the understanding of property rights. If you have not yet, please read Property Rights Norms Under Voluntaryism first so you have a better background for understanding.


First, the concept of “pollution” must be defined.  “Pollution” is the wrongful damaging of physical bodies or properties through the release of some chemical agent or physical object. “Pollution” in Voluntaryist terms must be tied to a discreet actor with a discreet harm. For example, if the owner of a chemical plant ordered that a toxic chemical be dumped onto land owned by his company, and that toxic chemical leaks out onto someone else’s land and causes bodily harm to others in a unique form that is tied to the poison, say, liver damage,  then “pollution” in this sense is a proper label as it is a discreet damaging of others’ bodies.

The same idea would apply to any other form of littering or dumping where the product is trespassing upon the property of another. The act of putting trash onto another’s property without consent is the act of a physical intrusion and a violation of the non-aggression principle.

This would include aggregate particulate, for example, a build-up of smog on others’ homes. If an industrial plant releases ash, and that ash is building up on nearby homes, then the ash is itself the physical object that is violating the property rights of others and is causing property damage to homes.

The colloquial of “noise pollution” may only be considered a harm to the extent the sound is physically damaging a body or property. As sound is the vibration of air molecules, sound that causes actual physical damage would be comparable to someone throwing a baseball and that baseball hitting something or someone and causing physical damage. If the sound is simply a nuisance, but is not actually causing physical harm, then the sound issues must be otherwise dealt with via property rights choices, such as though insulation, community rules such as in apartment housing, or through intentionally choosing to live on land that has a greater separation from others.


Nothing can be “pollution” in Voluntaryist terms that is itself a product of common use. For example, CO2 as a “greenhouse gas.” CO2 cannot be considered a discreet harm because all people participate in its creation (at a bare minimum, just by breathing out) and participate in its productive use in mass industrialization. If people wish to no longer produce a particular byproduct that virtually all participate in, then that must come about through voluntary human action via convincing others to not produce or use the product.

Anything labelled as “pollution” that is not itself a property rights violation cannot be accurately labelled as such. For example, environmental extremists may claim that the act of making cars is itself “pollution” because it “hurts the earth,” but that is not the case to the extent that the construction of a car is not violating the specific property rights of individual body or property.


By tying the concept of pollution to discreet, physical intrusions with discreet, physical harms, it helps to delineate who is specifically causing what harm and what must be done to alleviate the harm.

Through robust respect of property rights, individuals can choose their tolerances and hold those who do cause physical harm accountable.

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