Jerry Taylor -- Libertarian Climate Activist

Background on Jerry Taylor:

Jerry Taylor spent about two decades as one of the leading climate skeptics in the country. He was one of the leading climate skeptics at the Libertarian CATO institute.

Sometime around 2014 / 2015, he changed his mind on the topic, and in this video, he explains why.

This speech was given in early 2016.

Major Ideas Discussed:

He mentions that pretty much all the famous scientists who are climate skeptics, including Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindtzen, John Cristy, Judith Curry, and Willie Soon, accept that:

  • The climate is warming.
  • Warming will continue in the future.
  • Human emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to it.
They just don't agree that future warming will be problematic enough to justify action. I would add Bjorn Lomborg to this list.

Jerry Taylor is a staunch Libertarian, and he believes that the legitimate function of government is to protect the life, liberty and property of individuals, who are to choose to live their lives as they individually see fit.

To begin with, the likely harm from climate change is a spectrum of possibilities, ranging from a major nuisance to pretty catastrophic. When one is investing money, one doesn't think of the most likely outcome in isolation and bet everything on that, ignoring all other potential outcomes. For example, most years, stocks outperform bonds. But few saavy investors will put 100% of their portfolio into stocks, because some years the whole stock market crashes. Investors try to hedge their bets to play out well in a variety of scenarios.

Doing nothing about climate change utterly fails to hedge our bets across the full spectrum of possible future outcomes posed by global warming.

Most of the people advocating against climate action, including Jerry Taylor when he was doing it, argue that reducing carbon emissions will be expensive, and the likely harm caused by global warming is outweighed by the cost of curbing emissions.

But from a Libertarian standpoint, if one party is doing something that harms the property of another party, but the actor is gaining more than the injured party is losing, should the government conclude that, on a cost / benefit analysis, the activity should not be interfered with? That makes no sense whatsoever from a Libertarian view of private property. A responsible Libertarian government should intervene in some way to discourage such activity, or at least make the actor somehow compensate the injured party.

Taylor goes on at length to describe the political landscape of the climate debate, mentioning that many environmentalists such as Al Gore or Naomi Klein say things that are downright horrifying to the average Libertarian. The Green New Deal didn't exist in early 2016 when he made this speech, but it would clearly fit into that category, here is what Jerry Taylor had to say to Green New Deal proponents 3 years after this speech.

After leaving CATO, Taylor formed the Niskanen Center, a Libertarian think tank in Washington DC that supports climate action, and many Libertarian positions.