The Grand Climate Bargain

Mike Kozinski ’21, Opinion Columnist

At the 2019 UN climate action summit, activist Greta Thunberg issued world leaders a stern indictment: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” She further condemned those leaders by adding that their main concerns were not with the threat of climate change, but with “money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” Thunberg is correct to condemn world leaders for their appalling derelictions of duty to their constituents and to the world. Rather than make necessary short-term sacrifices, governments across the globe have consistently failed to make any meaningful progress on the solving climate change. It was easy for politicians to make those decisions as any constituents who would live to be affected by their actions had either yet to be born or were not of voting age. Thunberg’s activism is laudable as governments must not only recognize their responsibilities to constituents, but also to the world, and they must enact policies to combat climate change. 

It is imperative, however, that the movement to combat climate change includes people of all political affiliations. The environmental movement is unquestionably dominated by the political left. It must include all political affiliations for two reasons. 

First, climate change will impact everyone regardless of political affiliation. The natural disasters exacerbated by climate change – such as rising sea levels, increased prevalence and severity of hurricanes, and increased frequency and severity of droughts – do not care about the varying political opinions of the global population. It is imperative that both the left and the right cooperate to solve this issue. In the United States, this means that the both Democrats and Republicans will have to collaborate with one another in state legislatures and in Congress.

Second, conservative Republicans have historically been fierce advocates for the environment. In 1969, staunch conservative Senator Barry Goldwater praised the then-new Nixon administration for its conservation efforts: “I feel very definitely that the [Nixon] administration is absolutely correct in cracking down on companies and corporations and municipalities that continue to pollute the nation’s air and water.” The following year, President Nixon established the EPA to ensure that the United States protected its environment: “Clean air, clean water, open spaces – these should once again be the birthright of every American. If we act now, they can be.” Conservatives who have not already done so have a responsibility acknowledge the threat climate change poses to the world. However, in order to have an effective environmental movement, it must once again include and embrace political conservatives in its ranks.

Consequently, the environmental movement must not temper the passion of its activism but rather, it must call for effective and bipartisan methods to combat climate change that punish polluters. Fortunately, one such method exists: carbon dividends. 

The idea is simple: levy a tax that increases each year upon the carbon content of fossil fuels at the point of extraction and rebate all revenue from this tax directly to the people. This would help combat climate change in a key way. Since the tax is collected at the point of extraction, every corporation along the supply chain will have to pay the added-in costs of the tax each time and pass the costs along until goods reach the consumer. 

Initially, this may seem to be regressive; however, the rebates financed by the tax ensure that ordinary consumers will be able to bear the costs of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Corporations, by contrast, receive no such rebate, and they will be entirely responsible for the pollution costs they incur. Consequently, a carbon tax incentivizes people and businesses to make more environmentally-conscious decisions simply by increasing the cost of less environmentally-conscious decisions. 

We are not forever condemned to helplessly view dire reports on the news regarding climate change. It is a problem that can be fixed. However, the movement to combat climate change must include varying political opinions and must embrace effective and bipartisan solutions to combat climate change. Climate changes affects all demographics. It is time for politicians to recognize that includes themselves and to tax carbon emissions.