Monday, October 04, 2010

Whose rights are being threatened?

I follow Joe Romm's Climate Progress blog pretty closely. In one of today's posts, Romm points to a situation in Kentucky where rural resident's house burned to the ground while the fire department watched and did nothing because the home owner had not paid his $75 annual assessment to secure such fire protection.

This situation presents two issues. One is that of the Republican agenda to cur or eliminate taxes… putting every thing on a fee for service basis. That is what the South Fulton government had done. However, in this case, the unchekced fire spread to the neighbor's house and he HAD PAID his assessment. Note: had the fire department fought the first fire, the second home would, in all likelihood, not have burned at all. Romm takes this on as a Progressive vs. Republican issue.

However, the 17th commenter, nom de blog of wag, expands the issue as a matter of whose rights are being affected... or as an Arkansan boss I once had, said "whose ox is being gored." I reposted wag's comments because it goes to the heart of all of the rhetoric on climate change and especially, here in CA, is just about the best argument that I have heard as to why defeating Prop 23 just might be the most important thing we can do in November... along with voting for Laura Wells.
wag says:
October 4, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Here’s the global warming lesson: It’s less to do with the firemen not putting out the fire, and more to do with the fact that the guy’s NEIGHBOR’s house caught on fire because he hadn’t paid his fire protection fee.

It’s a lesson on the limits of rugged individualism: you’re free to do whatever you want on your property, until the effects of whatever you’re doing spread onto my property (or into a commons like the atmosphere or ocean). And in today’s interconnected world, where we find ourselves increasingly at the mercy of actions taken by people we’ve never met, we’ve all got a bit more say in the risks others take, whether with fires, finance, or fossil fuels.

Like fires, pollution doesn’t stay put—and like a fire spreading from your house to mine, as soon as the pollution leaves your property, I have every right to tell you to stop.

If my neighbor’s house catches fire, it could spread to mine—meaning I have a right to make that neighbor to pay for fire protection. If an Arkansas farmer dumps his farm waste into the Mississippi River, it travels down to the Gulf where it fertilizes algae and starves fish of oxygen—meaning that those fishermen have a say in what the farmer does with his waste (or else they must be compensated). And if a utility decides to burn coal to save money, the CO2 gets into the atmosphere and wreaks havoc on the climate other people depend on—meaning that we have a say in the utility’s choice of fuel.

I’m basically a libertarian: do what you want, as long as you only hurt yourself. I would be fine with other people’s right to burn coal and drive Hummers if they were the only ones who had to live with the consequences of global warming. But that’s not the world we live in. No matter how energy conscious I am, no matter whether I live close to work and don’t drive, my responsible choices can’t protect me or my children from the pollution-intensive lifestyles of others.

Like it or not, we’re all in this together. As the Cranick family found out, we now live in such close connection to others that one person’s rugged individualism can set his neighbor’s house on fire, mortgage loans in California can bring down banks in New York, and Hummer-driving soccer moms in Kansas can affect monsoon seasons in Bangladesh. And as soon as the CO2 exits someone else’s tailpipe and enters my atmosphere, it absolutely becomes my business.


Alex Walker said...

Even Milton Friedman, the great "Free Market" guru at the University of Chicago conceded that "neighborhood effects" was a problem for absolute free market economics. Moreover, Prof. Friedman conceded that in the 1960s when the "neighborhood effects" related to climate change was much less than it is today.

Wes said...

Thanks, Alex. I might find a good use for that. Should I send it to Rand Paul? Or Carly (Yes on Prop 23) Fiorina?

Anonymous said...

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