Liam Denning’s opinion piece “Climate change will survive the debates” in the Aug. 2 Colorado Daily ends with the observation that climate policy in the Democratic party is moving in the regulatory direction. If true, this would be a mistake on the part of the Democrats, as the leading market-based proposal, a price on carbon, is an all-around stronger approach. Pricing carbon is well-understood by economists to be the most effective approach to solving climate change. The climate movement trusts the scientific experts (as we should!) when it comes to the problem. It’s time to trust the relevant experts on solutions as well.
Going beyond its effectiveness, the carbon tax is actually the most palatable solution across the political spectrum, where, unlike comprehensive regulatory approaches, there are seriously credentialed conservative leaders who back the idea. Former Republican Secretaries of State James Baker (under George H. W. Bush) and George Schultz (under Ronald Reagan) endorse a price on carbon that gives the money back to the people. In Congress, Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) has his name on multiple carbon pricing bills.
Why does this matter? Why not just hope that Democrats can win the political struggle outright and never have to deal with Republicans again on climate? For one, history shows that, or its reverse, simply isn’t likely. Bills rarely get signed into law without some bipartisan support, and the few that do become exquisite targets for the other party to coalesce around repealing when the political pendulum swings back.
In fact, the mere prospect of that return swing is a political force unto itself. If the United States passes major climate legislation where the common wisdom is that repeal is realistic within two to four years, businesses may seek to do the bare minimum to comply and wait out the politics.
The best insurance against all of this is bipartisanship. We need more Republicans to lead in the style of Shultz, Baker and Rooney, and we need Democrats to bridge the aisle to get more Republicans there. Some of the presidential candidates are helping in this effort. John Delaney, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang have all explicitly called for a price on carbon. Meanwhile, in Congress, our own Rep. Joe Neguse, along with 57 other Democrats, have signed, along with Rooney, onto the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. They all deserve our thanks.
Daniel Palken, Boulder