In my previous piece, I invoked the Why behind environmentally focused causes, citing the MLK example that the thrust behind any mission begins with ideas. The prevalence of the two words, Climate Change, in the global debate has escalated to a zenith and one would be hard-pressed to ignore its call. However, politics has the potential of doing just that. In the most recent decade, in the United States, we have bafflingly politicized the debate over Climate Change and how to solve it.
Many on the right who ascribe to minimal (if any) government intervention have made important efforts to set the tone of a debate by spinning facts. As a result, many people still question the presence of Climate Change and how, if at all, urgent is a response. This has unfortunately led to an inadequate political response, even under the Obama administration, which many deemed to be a large proponent of environmentally friendly policies. To characterize the previous Democratic (big D) administration as the answer and the current Republican (big R) administration as the enemy would be missing an important point: ultimately, this is not a political issue.
So when President Trump decided to issue an executive order, rolling back the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, as well as, to promote the new EPA director, Scott Pruitt, a former defender of fossil fuel industry, the media and critics announced a return “back to the dark ages.” Extreme? Perhaps. For someone who believes that proper government oversight of all things environmental is the best starting point to change, then these decisions by the current administration might spell reversal. But again, this is to make the case that Climate Change is not real and is ignorable, which I believe is no longer the case.
According to a Yale/George Mason poll, only 28% of Trump voters think that the US should back away from the Paris agreement. Moreover, more than six in ten Trump voters support the tax or regulation of pollution, according to the pollsters. Yes, it is lamentable that the current administration has failed to offer more vocal solutions to the negative effects from climate change. Certainly, more could be done to promote alternative energy solutions, for example, instead of claiming the “resurgence” of the coal mining industry, despite the fact that job creation through government order is unlikely to make a meaningful impact; however, not all fate should be lost nor should it be placed in the government for the long term.
A group of Republicans led by former Secretaries of State, James Baker III and George Shultz and Henry M. Paulson, the former Secretary of Treasury under George. W. Bush have outlined an agenda to tax carbon pollution produced by burning fossil fuels. The group’s “conservative climate solution” or Baker Proposal would substitute the carbon tax for the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which is overly complex and regulatory. The fairly simple plan proposes a $40 tax per ton of CO2 produced that would raise an estimated USD 200 to USD 300 billion of tax revenues, annually. This revenue would then become a “carbon dividend”, redistributed to American families (estimated at USD 1,000 per legal resident). This unique approach transfers power from a centralized regulatory agency to the free markets as the ultimate catalyst for change. Regulation hampers innovation while a simple tax grows the government and can over time depress the economy. But if you tax emissions and then redistribute those earnings to people either directly or indirectly through credits, you make fossil fuels more expensive (critical to making alternative energy viable) and drive economic growth.
Although climate change may be important for many (hopefully some of my readers!), it is not going to register as a public priority unless government is smart. James Hansen, a former Director for NASA and the leading voice in climate change awareness, hopes that his class action law suit against the US government for inaction on climate change will help build an “intelligent government system”. By circumventing congress, he hopes that through the Judicial System all the way up to the Supreme Court, a change can be made and a new discourse created, one untainted by lobbyist and private interest. Again, this move utilizes the democratic process to shape policy that can ultimately be accepted.
In conclusion, I do not believe that we have solved nor destroyed all hope for climate change solutions. However, I do believe that an approach which requires government to implement a structure for the free markets to rule and regulate climate change and its effects can, in the long term, be more efficient than growing government regulatory bodies. As recently as October 2016, the current Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil endorsed carbon taxes. So, ignore the noise of politics and continue to learn and share the facts. Remember, this is not only a What, How, or When campaign, but importantly a Why campaign; whether you are a republican, a democrat, or a hybrid you must recognize that politics is the art of the possible, not of the absolute…come take a seat at the table!