A libertarian arguement for living a green lifestyle

I’m not a fan of green levies, subsidies, or policies. Thus far, all they’ve served to do is line the pockets of companies in cahoots with the state, having the cost of implementing these policies and subsidies passed on to the layman with a tidy profit. Not that there’s anything bad with profit per se, but when the state is used to obtain it I see it no different to theft, and as a consequence I strongly oppose it. Not to mention, implementation thus far seems to have been loss-making windmills erected in the least windy parts of Britain, because not enough land in these areas (largely Northamptonshire – 53 out of 94 proposed sites are in the least windy county alone) is protected from state interference by the National Trust or other private bodies. The only reason I can fathom for this love affair with ill-situated turbines is that they spin, so it looks like they’re actually doing something.

Still, large scale operations like the multi-megawatt farms being erected around the country are at best a mixed blessing. They cost an absolute bomb, require both a 60% subsidy and between a 70% and 85% fossil fuel backup (a practice which makes them less green than fossil fuel plants), and they kill wildlife. Not to mention, the rile up NIMBYs wherever they’re planned – inconsequential, but a nuisance nonetheless. That’s not to say that a desire to harness nature for power isn’t admirable, and whether you’re a believer in AGW or not, just in case it is true, I’d rather effort was made to reduce carbon emissions. On top of this, fossil fuel generation causes uncontrollable pollution (for now), which violates the property rights of those who are affected, in assets or in health. I just think that the solution is microgeneration.

Currently, there are commercial migrogeneration wind turbines available that cost around $1 per watt-hour. Open source designs come to about the same cost, but are much more enjoyable to build and give a greater sense of accomplishment and achievement. a 1KwH turbine operating at 30% efficiency (which you can reasonably expect out of them) will cover 75% of the average household’s power consumption. This means that you will break even on your investment in just over 3 years. Any excess generated (ie – at night) can be sold into the grid at a rate of 14.9p per unit, with energy suppliers likely to supplement this by around about 5p. Electricity currently costs around 18p a unit – so you’ll likely see a profit. Unfortunately, the 14.9p is provided by a state scheme – you have to register with them to be eligible, and the money has to come from the state, which means it comes from taxpayers who almost definitely see no benefit from your feeding in clean energy into the grid. Still, in a free market the scheme could work just as well, if not better – you own the means, so you set the price. Market forces suggests that your bills would break even between buying units for when your system’s not producing enough, and selling units when they produce too much.

So that’s electricity, now what about gas? Well most of the functions of gas can be provided by electricity, but generally they are incredibly power intensive. Electricity can cook your food economically, but it’s difficult to heat a house with 300wH of power. Fortunately, there’s a very convenient DIY solution on hand. You can build a 2kWh solar heater that will work consistently with sunlight even in the harshest winters, out of tin cans and a bit of concave perspex. Not only will it heat your home, but you have an excuse to drink a hefty amount of your alcoholic/carbonated beverage of choice! These solar heaters easily best the temperatures output by central heating systems, and will warm your house all through the day if you wanted them to. Unfortunately, they don’t work at night. I’m not aware of any ideal solution to heating the house at night. Insulation and double glazing will be able to keep in a fair amount of the heat generated through the day. Duvets should manage the rest. Failing that, you could use an electric heater funded by all that money you made feeding back into the grid with your wind turbine. Like I said, not ideal, but it’s darn close!

So far, all I’ve done is made an economic case for a green lifestyle. For most people, libertarian or not, that should be enough. Particularly for the libertarian, this is the path of a rational actor in a free market. But still, the ideological arguement needs to be made. As I’ve previously hinted, uncontrollable pollution is a factor with all non-renewables other than nuclear, and during meltdown crises even nuclear pollutes wantonly. This violates the property rights of individuals affected, and in fact claims many lives every single year. By rights, owners of polluting power stations should be quaking in their boots in fear of self-interested individuals with the right to do whatever it takes to shut down the offending stations. Not to mention the workers, which would lose their source of income all because they colluded in the destruction of others’ property. The simple answer is to not pollute. The simplest way to not pollute is to use renewable energy sources. The simplest way to harness these is at the point of use – the home, the office, the garage (electric cars are another change you can make – 2.5p per mile, you’d be mad not to use them unless you make a long commute! Save £2000 a year on fuel!).

The other issue with this is corporate collusion with the state. Companies with a vested interest in fossil fuel energy generation make use of the state and its mechanisms to keep the status quo in place. As a hoplophobic nation, Britain’s best solution to end a dependency on fossil fuels and polluting energy sources is to remove wealth from the market, making serving Britain with these power sources financially infeasible. Unfortunately, state regulates the status quo right down to the individual level – to erect a wind turbine you need planning permission from your local council, which then seeks input from locals as to whether they would like the view, so not only does the state try to impose the might of the national tyranny of the majority, it tries to impose it at a communal level too. Your neighbours are allowed to tell you what you can and can’t do with your property, not just the state, where corporate interests are concerned. Even if you do manage to get planning permission, you cannot erect it higher than 3m above the highest point of your property, which means that the property itself will impact airflow and thus reduce the efficiency, making you more likely to rely on the grid for more of your energy supply.

Resistance to green motivation has largely been out of self interest, either of individuals or corporations, at a financial level. It’s rational – as a famous (if largely wrong in world view) economist once pointed out, we all die in the end anyway, so why not keep the pennies in the purse and stretch our wealth as far as it will go? It’s for that reason, I will be generating my own energy. The cheapest way to generate energy is one which has no need for an input with financial value, and the solution for that is wind power and solar power. They are the cheapest forms of power we shall ever see, at the right scale, and just in case AGW is real, they don’t contribute to the posited causes either. Eco-warriors and the greedy need not be on opposite sides of the arguement.

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