A Quora question I answered:
Libertarianism is concerned with only one question: Under what conditions may one legitimately use physical force? Answer: to counteract a violation of one’s legitimate property rights (e.g. if someone comes at me with a knife they are threatening my property right in myself and I may repel such attack, if someone steals from me I may use force to get my property back). In other words if someone initiates violence (i.e. aggression) then one may legitimately counteract it proportionally (i.e. you shouldn’t kill someone for briefly setting foot on your lawn).
So, to answer your question, setting aside all the controversy around climate change we will simply assume it to be entirely true and that all the dire consequences imagined will in fact occur. In such a scenario whose property right is being aggressed against? Do future generations have an inalienable right to experience identical weather patterns as we experience them today? Do they have inalienable right to experience Miami beach exactly as it exists today? No. For a right to be a right it exists for all people for all time under all conditions. That’s why one has a right to life, everyone has a right to exist and remain unmolested by others and that condition can exist anytime anywhere. It is a negative right, it does not require the action of anyone or anything. Incidentally this is why “positive” rights, such as to a job, shelter, or healthcare are not real rights, but rather mere proclamations of things we’d like to have. To obtain such positive rights YOU must act to attain those things, one cannot obligate their fellow man to provide it for them. Negative rights only require that we be allowed to do what is necessary to achieve that thing without in turn violating (with violence) someone else’s ability to do likewise.
So if a “right to climate experience” exists then our rights are being violated today as we are all unable to experience the climate that existed say 1000 years ago. Since this is obviously totally unrealistic and unworkable we can see that no such right exists.
So to “combat” climate change one is free to do whatever they believe will minimize it, they can act on their own, they can associate with others and act together (by educating others to in turn get them to change their behavior, or perhaps starting a non-carbon energy company that perfects such energy forms to the point they are less costly than carbon and then naturally everyone simply switches to it – no coercion needed.
Think about it, if non-carbon energy is truly the future then these people should be willing to put their money on the line to invest it, I mean after all climate change is unequivocally going to happen, right? It’s a sure bet. They could make billions. So it is curious that they don’t want to invest their own money but rather use the state to make everyone else “invest” in such things.
They key to the libertarian answer is because there is no rights violation you can’t use violence (i.e. the voting booth) to make a “law” and then force everyone to follow that law under penalty of death (death being the ultimate result if one resists the state’s dictates to the bitter end). But there is nothing at all wrong with engaging in voluntary activity to persuade others to your viewpoint and to act in concert with you.
In short, do whatever you want to solve it, as long as it doesn’t involve the use of someone with a gun backing you up. Which by the way is exactly what a carbon tax or cap and trade entails. These are pseudo-markets concocted by the state. An actual market involves a buyer and a seller who exchange VOLUNTARILY. A carbon tax or cap and trade is no more a real market than a board game is the actual thing it represents: e.g. Monopoly has the trappings of a market economy, but it certainly isn’t one. Cap and trade and carbon taxes are like forcing two people to play Monopoly at gun point and then saying “see, they are following the principles of capitalism, so it’s all ok”
For those that want a truly wonky expert analysis of why carbon taxes are not at all libertarian (the crux of the original question) and why they would not actually do what most imagine they would (reduce carbon) please see this. In short a carbon tax or cap and trade is simply a new income tax that shifts money from the wealthy to the poor. The poor see no net change in their income so they keep consuming carbon just as they always have (e.g. if they spent $100 on fuel, now with a carbon tax it is $200, but they get a $100 tax rebate, so their net out of pocket does not change). The wealthy have less money and thus less ability to save and thus less capital accumulation that can be used to invest in new R&D, new technologies, new factories, new jobs, etc. It doesn’t stop those things from happening, but it slows it down such that in 100 years we will be x% less well off than we were would have been absent the carbon tax and meanwhile the carbon tax has made zero impact on use cause we just give the money right back to the people using it the most.