The environmental movement is heavily associated with state regulation. Of course, this is natural, with most environmentalists favoring big government. 

But libertarians shouldn’t discount environmentalism. We spend too much time on the long-dead debate over the existence of climate change, which only adds water to the mill of our opponents. The way forward, then, is not through denial, but through the promotion of markets and innovation, including the sharing economy, which can solve the problem far more effectively.

Fewer rooms mean fewer emissions

An important part of the sharing economy is housing, and it’s actually extremely beneficial for the environment. 

Most of the better hotels pride themselves on top-notch service for their customers, but this service may not always be environmentally friendly. Just think about the need to have your sheets and towels washed every day, or your room vacuumed. 

In the case of sharing an apartment or house, these decisions are left to the consumer, who naturally will not spend as much time cleaning and washing as the hotel staff, who are financially incentivized to do so. 

Moreover, if the consumer is ideologically convinced of the need to protect the environment, he or she will instead be proactive in reducing these activities that produce an additional carbon footprint.

This thesis is supported by a 2018 study, which concluded that CO2 emissions per person decrease in proportion to the growth of people in a household. The cause is likely to be, in addition to the above thesis, pooled consumption for goods such as air conditioning, heating or light. 

Indeed, thanks to platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO or CouchSurfing, six people in one household consume essentially the same amount of heat and light as if only one person lived in that household. So, if we contrast shared housing with a large hotel, where dozens or even hundreds of people are spread out in imaginary households, a really interesting picture emerges.

Ride sharing helps the environment

Cars are often cited as the biggest polluters of the planet. Thanks to platforms such as Turo or Getaround, the consumer can simply rent a car that would otherwise sit in a parking lot and remain unused.

As there is a more efficient use of existing assets, there is a reduced production of new cars. A study by the University of California Transportation Center reports that one car-sharing vehicle replaces the function of up to 13 private cars. Car sharing also makes it more affordable for people to use greener but more expensive alternatives, such as electric cars. 

While it may be disadvantageous for the average consumer to buy an electric car due to its high price, this is certainly no longer the case for X number of consumers who carpool through one of the many platforms. Digital platforms thus enhance and improve the market’s allocative capacity, which makes it capable of achieving more socially optimal outcomes and reducing social costs as well.

Emissions from road transport also reduce information sharing. Not only are traffic jams annoying, but they are also environmentally unfriendly. By avoiding them with navigation apps such as Waze, we save the environment. Here again, the information capacity of the market is enhanced.

Reducing emissions can also be achieved when looking for parking. Instead of spending hours searching for a parking space in a busy metropolis, just use the ParqEx app, which connects drivers to private parking spaces.
For those who don’t like even the more efficient car sharing, there is another alternative. And that’s absolutely emission-free bike sharing. A 2016 study shows that bike sharing in Shanghai reduced CO2 emissions by 25240 tons and saved up to 8358 tons of gasoline.

As always, human creativity is the best solution

At the moment, there is probably no sector that is developing as quickly and dynamically as the sharing economy. The market is able to protect nature thanks to newly developed technologies. So, the greatest resource for protecting nature is once again the human mind and creativity, which only needs to be allowed to create spontaneously. The question is whether governments are prepared to accept this fact.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.