Commentary: Taxing unwanted behavior may be key to climate change

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Different parts of America are bearing witness to varying changes in the climate. For example, the mid-Atlantic region, as known all too well for those living on the Delmarva Peninsula, is subject to a rising sea that erodes shorelines. The drought-prone Western states have experienced troubling and historic wildfires over the last several years. Likewise, Gulf state residents gird for hurricane season, as storms grow in strength and intensity, often stalling over land to dump unfathomable amounts of rain.

And with all these significant personal and economic impacts, so erodes conservative reluctance to act on climate change.

The timing couldn’t be better.

In the words of evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, “A thermometer isn’t Democratic or Republican. It doesn’t give us a different number depending on how we vote. And climate change isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. It is a human issue. We care about a changing climate because it affects every single one of us who share this planet — the only home we have.” With that said, conservatives are the most important voice to the climate movement right now. Everyone knows where the environmental left stands on climate change. Most people have heard of the Green New Deal, even if they don’t know exactly what’s envisioned by it. Where is the counterpart?

We have an idea.

The great Reagan adviser, conservative economist Milton Friedman, believed in taxing behavior you want less of. It’s as simple as that. We want less carbon pollution, so we have to tax carbon.

Taxing carbon is the small-government solution to climate change because it’s a matter of simple accountability. When you make all polluters accountable for the impacts of emissions by putting a price on those impacts, sooty electricity, for example, loses out to solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power — not because government picked them as winners, but because consumers can see that cleaner sources are actually cheaper when you consider the costs associated with burning fossil fuels. Self-interest and good economics would drive innovation — not fickle tax incentives, clumsy mandates or intrusive regulations. Under this vision, the tax would be paired with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in existing taxes or a dividend of all the carbon tax revenue back to the citizenry, making it revenue-neutral.

Doing nothing is no longer an option. As more and more American businesses, including the oil and gas industry, see the opportunities, not just the costs, of acting on climate change, the more likely we are to find that sweet spot that both sides of the aisle can agree on.

Which is just what the doctor ordered. We must come together quickly to enact durable, economy-wide solutions to climate change. It’s important to get this right before Big Government gets it wrong.

Bob Inglis represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-99 and from 2005-11. He directs republicEn.org, a community of conservatives advancing free-enterprise solutions to climate change.