The Air is a “Soup” of Pollution in Parts of China, State Capitalism Fail

china-pollution smog

I often hear that the USA is a horrible polluter. That we use all the energy, expand our carbon foot print, and so increase the risk of global warming for the rest of the world.

But I was in a meeting with one of the leading climate scientists in the world this past November and he informed me that if the US went to 0% carbon emissions tomorrow, in 3 years the Chinese would make up for the reduction.

Look at these pictures and one can see why. The air itself is coal colored. Often we are told that environmental problems must be solved with central planning. That in the end top down command and control is the only way to make things better.

But people forget that the worst environmental disasters almost exclusively have happened when the commanders and controllers have run the show. Chernobyl, the drying out of the Aral Sea, the killing of the Colorado River delta (thanks to the Hoover Dam), the 3 Gorges Dam, the westward push into the Amazon Basin encouraged by expressed government initiatives, the list goes on and on.

Where strong property rights exist however, environmental issues can be solved without the planners (to a very large degree, and in many cases completely).

In China individuals have no recourse. The state has encouraged this pollution. The state is all powerful. What is one to do? Sue? I don’t think so. In China the individual is meaningless and so if individuals must breathe in cancerous soot, then that is what must be. For the good of the collective (as is perceived by the planners) some people must die.

Is the USA the paragon of wise environmental stewardship (whatever that means)? By no means. We bungle regs all the time and we still leave too much to the commons. But generally free markets and the rule of law are far better from the environmentalist perspective than many environmentalists these days may think.

One does not get 60 days of smog which is off the charts in a free society (I could be wrong). But one does get such a stretch in a centrally planned economy.

Capitalism and free individuals are not enemies of the planet. The state often is and destroys things on a grander scale than robust capitalism ever could (with strong property rights where individuals may sue due to impact from externalities). One should consider this when calling for more control over environmental issues from Washington DC. The benevolent hand may not always remain benevolent.

Consider that we should strengthen property rights instead.

And for the record I write this as an avid hiker, runner, formerly avid surfer, and one who is very interested in a clean planet. I’d rather be deep in the forest or paddling out into the ocean than nearly anywhere else.