Reply To: Noise Pollution, Visual Pollution


Your question raises what I like to call ‘the boundary problem.’ If you and I live on desert islands 100 miles apart, it doesn’t much matter what I do since it’s unlikely to interfere with your peace and quiet. However, if we live next door to each other, it’s inevitable that there will be some spillover of, say, noise (of lawnmowers) and smells (of barbecues).

The common law tends to treat these situations matter of factly and along a continuum. So, if you complain that you can hear your next door neighbours having a cup of coffee on their patio you’re unlikely to get much sympathy. If, however, you complain about rock music played at 150 decibels at 3.00 a.m.. then you’ll be in a much stronger position. Other situations fall in between. The law tends to take a ‘reasonable man’ approach to these situations, using as its standard what a normal person in normal circumstances would find tolerable/intolerable. Practically, most situations are sorted out by a combination of tolerance and reasonableness.

On the visual side of things, common law (at least on the eastern side of the Atlantic) recognises a right to light but not to a view. So if someone constructs a building on their property that radically reduces the amount of light you get, then you have grounds for complaint. If they obstruct your view, you don’t.

In the end, in a libertarian society, much of this would be sorted out by covenanting or some other device. A libertarian jurisprudence can set out the large principles but detailed regulations would be a matter for local devising and implementation.