O beautiful for spacious skies …

Humans have a nasty habit of really messing up wherever they live.

Especially businesses, and especially unregulated businesses.

Economics has this concept they call externalities. These are the effects of a process that don’t have to be paid for by the person who benefits from that process. Since the person making the decisions doesn’t have to pay these costs, they are external to that person’s decision making.

Externalities are costs that can (from an economics perspective) be safely ignored.

And they turn being an asshole to your neighbors into sound business sense.

If I don’t have to pay, then I don’t have to care.

The United States has, historically, taken the position that anyone has the right to dump anything into the air or water that we all share unless the law has specifically forbidden that in advance.

This hasn’t really worked out very well: with the freedom to release anything into the environment has come the freedom of everyone else to get lung cancer and chloracne.

Not fun, unless you’re the one doing the dumping and you live very far away from where you’re doing it.

Ah, principal.

Still, it’s best that criminal law on emissions remain this way: there should have to be a specific law before something can be treated as a crime. Requiring specificity in law is a good thing.

Civil liability, however can fix this one.

We can change the liability rules so that anyone who releases anything outside their own property is strictly liable for all the results of that release. With no limits, and specifying that this liability is borne by the humans who are ultimate owners of whatever entity is doing the releasing.

You dump it, you can be made to pay for it.

This is not a perfect solution. Nothing that brings in the liability lawyers can be.

But it can be a backstop against loopholes in better solutions, if we ever come up with any.

As usual with almost everything this blog talks about, this would have to be implemented as a Constitutional amendment; otherwise the politicians would immediately start carving out exclusions.

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