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fossil fuel, whether through a cap-and-trade mechanism, a tax, an untax,
or a rationing system, will ever receive Congressional blessing—at least
not in the foreseeable future. Those opposed to action insist either that
climate change does not exist or that the government should not intrude
into the market in this way. The first objection is tacitly a stand-in for the
second; it signals the fear that if climate change happens to be true, it will
give the government an excuse to take too much control over our lives.
The ultimate basis for these objections is the belief that each person
has the right to do whatever he or she pleases—as long as such action
does not harm the interest of another. This belief is the core of “liberal”
philosophy, that is, the strand of political philosophy that places its high-
est priority on safeguarding individual liberty. (Here our terminology has
it exactly backwards; those who place liberty above our future are “liber-
als,” strictly speaking, while those who wish to sustain the biosphere into
the future are in a key sense “conservatives.”)
The problem with this objection is that it falls flat, right on its face.
When we decide to use fossil fuels, we are harming each other, as well
as the biosphere and all future generations. If there were ever a pub-
lic imperative that passed this test beter , I'd like to know what it is. All
governments have the right to protect the viability of the biosphere
for future generations; otherwise, it's not clear why we bother to let
such governments exist. Our Constitution recognizes this right in its
Preamble, which states that the purpose of government is to “promote
the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and
our Posterity.” Take note: its purpose is to secure liberty for us and poster-
ity, too . Since emiting greenhouse gases today will lead to more severe
climate change, which will in turn seriously hamper the liberties of our
descendants, the only way to safeguard the rights of posterity is to change
our own practices today. The liberal tradition is absolutely on the side of
changing our society, and doing so now . The trick is to find a solution to
the problem that also respects the liberal tradition, that draws on individ-
ual decision-making, foresight, and creativity. The greenhouse gas untax
fits the bill, for it creates the market incentives for all of us to bring about
the changes we need.
The obstacle, then, is not present in any feature of the proposed solu-
tion, which accords well with our Constitution and our respect for the
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