There’s a new climate change prevention plan in town, and unbelievably, it’s coming from some rather senior Republicans, the de facto party of science denial.
Two former Secretaries of State – James Baker III and George Shultz – along with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., met with Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council this week in Washington D.C.
During the meeting, they proposed a carbon tax, describing it as a “conservative climate solution” grounded in free-market ideology.
In a transcript of the meeting sent to IFLScience, the three explain that, instead of going along with the beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas emission caps and focus on renewable energy, they favor a “gradually rising carbon tax,” where “100 percent of the proceeds would be given back to the American people in the form of dividends.”
“America could meet the commitments that it made in Paris without any other policies. That is how effective the power of a marketplace solution can be.
“223 million Americans stand to benefit financially from solving climate change,” they add.
Rather remarkably, Baker himself is a “moderate” denier of climate change. Although he accepts it is happening, he is entirely unconvinced of the overwhelming scientific evidence that links human activity to the phenomenon – and yet, he strongly supports a carbon tax.
It is, however, difficult to verify the efficacy of their plan and the reliability of the associated numbers that come along with it.
The point worth noting is that they are pitching the plan to combat climate change as an economic incentive. This is in fact something scientists and companies have already tried to do – they’ve repeatedly pitched increasingly cheap, job-creating renewable energy to Trump, framing it (accurately) as an economic boon.
So what is a carbon tax? Well, first off, it is not actually a new idea.
In the US, it was first proposed under the Clinton administration back in 1993 – and today, the basic principles of it have not changed too drastically. Unlike cap-and-trade, and unlike carbon-cutting regulations proposed by the Paris agreement or the EPA, greenhouse gas emissions themselves are not capped.
Instead, the original sources of carbon – fossil fuels – are taxed. The more carbon present within the fossil fuel, the greater the tax on them. The tax applies at any point in the production cycle of the fuel, so the taxes can be levied whenever a company merely mines or buys fossil fuels.
Ultimately, if a carbon tax is applied, coal will cost companies a lot more to use, followed by oil, then natural gas. The idea is that if they decide to use them a lot, then the country will benefit from additional revenue. If they decide to eschew them, then the country – and world – will benefit from lower carbon emissions.
The three Republicans are marketing it as a conservative, free-market plan – something that President Reagan would have liked the sound of. “I’m not at all sure the Gipper wouldn’t have been very happy with this,” Baker said during the meeting.
Nevertheless, carbon taxes have plenty of bipartisan support, although Democrats are likely to favor the implementation of a carbon tax with investments in clean, renewable energy. Public favorability of the idea is generally quite high – but it dips whenever certain conservative lawmakers phrase it as a tax on the middle class, which it generally isn’t.
The thing is, the public overwhelmingly thinks that the solution already in front of them – investing in renewable energy and deprioritizing fossil fuels – is fine as it is. A recent survey revealed that over two-thirds of Americans, a striking majority, want the government to work on this.
The three argue that carbon caps promoted by the EPA are “growth-inhibiting”, but there’s no solid evidence to suggest this is true.
While it’s unnervingly refreshing to see a climate change action plan being proposed to the White House by Republicans, we don’t yet know how the White House has received it. Nevertheless, we’d argue that they’re ignoring the environmentally friendly, economically beneficial solution the rest of the world seems to have already chosen.