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.
“Pollution” is the wrongful damaging of physical bodies or properties through the release of some chemical agent, physical object, vibration, or radiation.
“Pollution” in Voluntaryist terms must be tied to a discreet actor proximately causing a discreet harm. For example, if the owner of a chemical plant ordered that a toxic chemical be dumped onto land owned by the company, and that toxic chemical leaks out onto someone else’s land and causes bodily harm to others, then “pollution” in this sense is a proper label.
The toxic chemical is causing discreet damage to others’ bodies and properties and the causation is connected directly to the actions of the company not securing toxic agents.
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 in apartment housing, or through intentionally choosing to live on land that has a greater separation from others.
The same analysis would apply to radiation, as radiation could only be a harm to the extent it is directly causing damage to bodies or properties.
This would depend on differences in wave strength, as radio waves are typically not damaging whereas gamma radiation is.
THE LABEL OF “POLLUTION” CANNOT BE COMMON EXPERIENCE
Nothing can be “pollution” in Voluntaryist terms that is itself a product of common use. For a good 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 individuals’ 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.
Now that we have that backdrop, it’s important to look at the “compared-to-what” of the current landscape.
In the world now, governments tend to act hypocritically when it comes to pollution and do not, even as among each other, hold the same standards.
The U.S. military is one of the largest polluters by the descriptions given prior and by those who think carbon emissions are unfavorable for climate.
The U.S. government caps liability for polluters, such as capping BP’s liability in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.
The U.S. government has also been responsible for mass pollution events, such as with the EPA releasing 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River of southwest Colorado.
Other countries share similar problems.
China has had some of the most polluted cities in the world while going through their industrial revolution, and the government there has often given companies permission to pollute through discharge fees and taxes.
So, as you can see, just because there are “governments,” it does not mean that pollution is completely eradicated or consistently handled.
The focus then is to remind others that strong property rights permit individuals the opportunity to rectify harms and incentivize people to take care of what they own so they do not pollute.
In doing so, solutions can arise in the free market from people voluntarily tackling pollution.
Take for example Boyan Slat’s garbage capturing device that removes trash from the ocean without hurting sea creatures.
In his late teens and early 20s, he raised over 30 million dollars for his device and has successfully finished early prototype testing.
His improved system captured 60 giant bags of waste to recycle, and he is continuing to refine his designs for more applications.
Through strong, individual property rights, and holding companies and individuals accountable for their harms, a free market approach to dealing with pollution can and will succeed.
—Dealing with Pollution Sources—
The US military is a bigger polluter than more than 100 countries combined
Pollution in China
China: New Law Replacing Pollution Discharge Fee With Environmental Protection Tax
BP ‘agrees to pay record penalty for Deepwater oil spill’
Deepwater Horizon oil spill
2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill
Walter Block: Free Market Environmentalism
If you’d like to learn more about Voluntaryist philosophy, pick up the book: