Commentary: Whatever your politics, have an open mind about carbon tax

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In honor of Earth Day, conservation-minded folks are taking part in beach cleanups, recycling-awareness campaigns and other organized efforts to pay homage to the environment. These tasks are important and build community, especially if you consider the missive to “think globally and act locally” seen on many bumpers.

But they aren’t enough.

One of the best ways to think globally and act locally is to support a border-adjustable, revenue-neutral carbon tax as the means to combating climate change — and to share your support with lawmakers at all levels of government. This is truly the only solution at the scale of the problem posed by climate change.

As things stand, those who emit carbon dioxide basically have a free permit to dump. If you or I go to our local municipal dump, we have to pay a tipping fee, the price of using the facility and accounting for its management. With no cap on carbon dioxide in the U.S., emissions are released with no consequences to industry but heavy consequences to the 40% of Americans who live along our nation’s coastlines, coastlines that are going to erode or even disappear with rising sea levels. (Probably not something Delawareans, so proud of their beaches, want to begin to imagine.) Climate change also impacts public health, agricultural yields and access to water. States at Risk says that Delaware can expect more days with the heat index at dangerous levels and a longer mosquito season. By 2100, the weather in Wilmington will resemble the current weather in San Antonio, an average of 9 degrees hotter than today’s averages.

I try hard to not sound alarmist; as a conservative, I believe in moderation of voice and tone. But one cannot absorb the realities we face, as presented in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and not feel the need to act and act urgently.

The bad news: According to the report, we don’t have that much time to waste.

The good news: We know exactly what we need to do. We need to stop “dumping” carbon emissions for “free” with the ultimate cost paid by the younger generations left to clean up the mess of ruling generations and their inaction. But we can’t rely on voluntary action alone, which is why a carbon tax would send the market signal necessary to incentivize a reduction in emissions and spark innovations we cannot yet imagine to help us tackle this global problem.

And it is a global problem, but the U.S. has a moral obligation to lead. A carbon tax checks that box, too, if paired with a carbon border adjustment, which would force countries with lax environmental standards to pay a fee for their lack of climate policy. Eventually, those countries would tire of paying Uncle Sam and would be incentivized to implement their own carbon-reduction plans.

I do hope well-intended outdoor enthusiasts take to the beaches, forests and streams for Earth Day cleanups. But I also hope those efforts extend beyond, to show support for a carbon tax. Lawmakers won’t have the courage to support one unless they know their constituents back home want it.

Your voice can make a difference.

Former Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., directs republicEn.org, a community of conservatives advancing free-enterprise solutions to climate change.

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