There’s a way around the wreckage that President Donald J. Trump has caused by withdrawing America from the Paris climate accord. His single-car accident put us in the ditch on the do-less side of the road with only one other country — Syria. Nicaragua is in the ditch on the do-more side of the road, having refused to join the accord because it didn’t go far enough.
As America comes to recognize the wreckage that is populist nationalism, we’re expecting conservatives to spot a smoother ride up on the pavement and out of the ditch. On climate change, we may just find our progressive compatriots ready to pull along that solid road with us.
U.S. Reps. John Faso (R-NY) and John Delaney (D-MD) recognize the need to get on that road. They’re advancing a bill to create a commission to study climate change solutions. At republicEn.org we’re thinking that such a commission might find consensus at surprising speed.
Democratic appointees to such a commission might be expected to say, “We’ve got to move quickly to curb emissions.”
Republicans on the commission would likely say, “Right, and the fastest way to get innovation is through free enterprise.”
“OK,” the progressives may say, “we’ve got a bevy of economists who would agree. And, conservatives, can you agree to a simple pricing of carbon dioxide if we agree to scrap a regulatory approach?”
“Can do,” the conservatives may respond. “The idea of a price signal is exactly what Milton Friedman would have told us to do and it fits with our bedrock principle of accountability.”
A libertarian on the commission may well interject, “I’m glad you see the value of transparent, accountable marketplaces where all costs are in on all the fuels. Now, can we agree to eliminate all subsidies for all fuels and simply make them all accountable for all of their costs?”
Progressives, aware of the opportunity cost of surrendering the environment as a political wedge issue, might insist, “If you mean all subsidies, including the implicit subsidy of dumping into the trash dump of the sky for free, and including the tax subsidies for the fossil fuels, then, yes, progressives could go along with eliminating all subsidies.”
A conservative on the commission with a new constituency in wind may feel the need to dial the wind energy association for a side bar, “Is it OK to eliminate the production tax credit if carbon dioxide emissions are priced-in to fossil fuels?” Within minutes the conservative would be back in the room with the answer, “Wind is in.”
An effective chair of the commission would seize the moment: “So we could all be in on a simple pricing of carbon dioxide. Steady, now, that means a carbon tax.”
The conservatives on the commission speaking as actual conservatives — the kind who like to operate on data and precautionary principles — would say, “Give us a corresponding, dollar-for-dollar tax cut, making the new carbon tax revenue-neutral, and we’re in.”
The progressives in the room might ask, “Are you willing to make that a payroll tax cut so as not to hurt poor people with a regressive carbon tax?”
“We could go with that,” the conservatives might answer. “And, consistent with the president’s insistence that we not disadvantage manufacturing, can we make importers pay the same carbon tax?”
“Yep,” the progressives would say, “A border-adjustment would suit us just fine. Labor would be happy with that. Besides, that’s the way to get the whole world in on a similar pricing of carbon dioxide. After China challenges our border adjustment and loses in the World Trade Organization, they’d enact the same carbon tax in China.”
The conversation might deepen a bit when someone suggests a dividend of the money back rather than a tax cut.
“Not a problem,” a consensus-minded chair could conclude. “Let’s let the Congress decide. Let’s report back the idea of a simple carbon tax on fossil fuels, applied to imports as well, and suggest that Congress either recycle the carbon tax revenue through a corresponding tax cut or a through a dividend.”
The only people left out of this conversation would be the disputers of climate science. But many of them really haven’t been disputing the science. They’ve been disputing the solutions. Once they see the commission reporting back with a solution that doesn’t harm the economy, even some of them might join in.
The possibility of a dialogue like this makes us very glad about the prospect of a climate change commission. When America steps up to lead the world to action on climate change, we’ll look back and wonder why it took us so long to come together.
Bob Inglis is the executive director of republicEn.org, a group of conservatives engaging conservatives on climate change. A Republican, he represented Greenville-Spartanburg in the U.S. Congress from 1993 to 1999 and 2005 to 2011.