Call me crazy, but I think the time is ripe for a bipartisan solution to address climate change, which will help to preserve our wonderful planet Earth. A recent study done by the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication reports that 70 percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and a majority of us acknowledge that humans, through greenhouse gas emissions from our various activities, are causing the climate to change. These numbers show that Americans have come to accept what climate scientists have been telling us for years.
The report also shows, however, that we generally think that climate change is something that affects others, and not us individually. But the people of North Carolina are already feeling the effects of climate change, which will be even more heightened if we do not come together to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Last fall in WNC, we witnessed one of the most severe droughts we have seen in this region, which laid the foundation for the devastating wildfires that impacted thousands of us. Our coasts will be significantly impacted, with rising sea levels and stronger storms, and our 50,000 farmers (cultivating over eight million acres of N.C. land) could see more temperature extremes, drought, and crop-damaging storms.
Daily, we read and hear about the political deadlock in Washington, but there are some promising signs and trends concerning climate change that are flying under the radar. In February of this year, the conservative Climate Leadership Council, led by stalwart Republicans James Baker III, George Shultz and Henry Paulson, all of whom served as cabinet members under Republican presidents, issued a report with a plan to address climate change. The opening line of the report reads, “Mounting evidence of climate change is growing too strong to ignore.”
In addition, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has grown from 10 to 36 members in the past three months. The Caucus, which is made up of 18 Republicans and 18 Democrats, representing districts from Florida to Pennsylvania, Nebraska to Oregon, explores policy options to address the impacts and causes of a changing climate.
Another positive sign comes from a recent survey of 21 college Republican clubs conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The study found that about half of the clubs held views that climate change is real and is largely human-caused, and about a quarter of them described their clubs as having mixed views on the subject; only two clubs reported that their members were generally skeptical about climate change. Nick Frankowski, chairman of Ohio State University’s College Republicans, had this to say: “The evidence is fairly overwhelming that climate change is a thing,” he said. “The biggest debate is, of course, what to do about it.”
What to do about it, indeed. The Trump administration has rejected federal command-and-control action on climate change, with its recent executive order to disassemble the already-stalled Clean Power Plan. However, with strong public support for our elected officials to address climate change, there is room for a bipartisan, market-based solution: a relatively simple system of carbon pricing, with all fees collected, minus a small administrative fee, returned to American households.
The proposal presented by the Climate Leadership Council, led by the group of conservatives mentioned above, would charge a fee for fossil fuels “to be implemented at the refinery or the first point where fossil fuels enter the economy, meaning the mine, well or port.” The authors continue, “Economists are nearly unanimous in their belief that a carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon emissions. A sensible carbon tax might begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time, sending a powerful signal to businesses and consumers, while generating revenue to reward Americans for decreasing their collective carbon footprint.” Under this plan, the fees collected would be returned to Americans by the Social Security Administration, and the authors estimate that a family of four would receive about $2,000 in dividend payments the first year.
The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, for which I volunteer, proposes a similar system of carbon fee and dividend (though the details are slightly different), with a similar border tax adjustment made for exports and imports to keep the system fair for American companies and consumers, and to encourage other nations to adopt a similar system of carbon pricing. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — the former CEO of Exxon Mobil — has publicly supported a carbon fee and dividend system, too.
We have a lot riding on the pressing issue of climate change, and every being on Earth is facing it. Though Americans seemingly do not see eye-to-eye on many issues today, there is strong and growing support from all angles of the political spectrum to accept the challenge and act on climate change, preserving our wonderful planet. Current and future generations depend on a clean, stable, environment and climate, and a market-based system for pricing carbon would be a great step to that end. Reps. Meadows and McHenry and Sens. Tillis and Burr need to hear from us, no matter our individual political ideologies, as this plan can and should be supported by Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and otherwise. The rest of the world’s nations remain steadfast in their commitments made at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit to act; it is now time for America to step up and lead, to the benefit of us all.
Michael Hill teaches mathematics and environmental science at Asheville School. His blog on environmental issues can be found at http://thehillbillyenvironmentalist.blogspot.com.