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The Climate Is Changing, Why Aren’t We?
A report commissioned by the United Nations found that time is running out: there could be as little as 12 years left to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half before the effects of climate change become too severe (Bhusal). To combat the impending effects of climate change, the UN created the Paris Agreement, an agreement which 197 nations have signed to confirm they will take action to prevent the global temperature from rising above 1.5°C. As a highly industrialized nation, the U.S. produces a largely disproportionate amount of those greenhouse gasses; however, in June 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. This action not only represents the President’s personal belief that climate change is a “hoax,” but also represents the resistance of Republican lawmakers to adopt and enact effective climate change policy (Denchak). In December 2018, Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a climate resolution to begin the process of stabilizing global temperatures, known as the Green New Deal. In the Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez lays out solutions for stabilizing the global temperature through reforming infrastructure, market inequalities, and social issues in relation to climate change (Carlock). Republican lawmakers failed the Green New Deal in the Senate because they disagree with Democratic lawmakers on how to address climate change through environmental policy. Within the current free-market system, Republican lawmakers believe that radical solutions, such as the Green New Deal, are not economically feasible. Republican lawmakers have been cautious of adopting climate change policies, such as carbon taxing, based on fears of ruining current political and economic institutions. Initiating a carbon tax will not only benefit the economy, but it will restabilize market inequalities and promote free-market innovation, a concept which Republican lawmakers tend to favor (Gale). Therefore, Republican lawmakers should counter Democratic lawmakers’ environmental reform policies with a revenue-neutral carbon tax to help the curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Republican lawmakers often argue that carbon taxing is a less cost-effective way of handling greenhouse gas emissions than the current command-and-control regulation. Command-And-Control works to regulate greenhouse gases by setting caps on pollution emissions or by requiring the use of pollution-control technologies. Even though these regulations have assisted in environmental protection, there are a few vital flaws in this system: it provides no incentive to cut down on more emissions than the required amount; it is not comprehensive in regards to who is affected and what areas are being affected, and it has loopholes which can be exploited for political gain. Since the current command-and-control regulations were not effectively designed and implemented, this form of greenhouse gas regulation is ineffective. In contrast, a carbon tax would be a more useful and cost-efficient way of quantifying the risks associated with pollutants being released into the atmosphere. Currently, the risks associated with greenhouse gas pollution go unnoticed in both taxation and policy. Market distortions for fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, do not embody the true price of production or consumption. As a result of market distortions, consumers end up investing in more fossil fuels than they would be were the prices and accurate reflection of production. The best way to inform consumers and correct market distortions are by implementing a carbon tax. Doing so would not only create a more transparent government, something Republican lawmakers highly value, but also would help create other non-climate related benefits.
In addition, Republican lawmakers uphold the belief that the U.S. taking action against climate change will have little effect on the climate itself. No one denies that global action would be more effective than national action when combating climate change, however, this does not mean the U.S. should not be retroactively attempting to fight rising global temperatures. As the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, it is the responsibility of the U.S. to be held accountable for its impact on the globe. Also, as the world’s leading superpower, the U.S. has a major impact on promoting further action from other countries. Even if a U.S. carbon tax fails to inspire other countries to act, non-climate related benefits will still be produced. For instance, a study by the International Monetary Fund found that a $30 per ton carbon tax would produce $37 worth of non-climate benefits by creating a deficit in standard pollutants and also by increasing the cost of driving which results in lower traffic rates, vehicle accident risk, and road maintenance costs. For these reasons, regardless of the impact a carbon tax will have on the environment, Republican lawmakers should support a carbon tax for the promotion of future economic benefits.
Another reason Republican lawmakers have resisted carbon taxing is that they believe that increasing federal revenue will increase the size of government. On the contrary, almost every carbon tax proposal includes offsetting tax cuts to ensure revenue neutrality.
A revenue-neutral carbon tax would not increase the size of the federal treasury. Even so, this argument is based on a misinterpretation of what constitutes the “size of the government.” Often times Republican lawmakers evaluate the government’s role based on the size of its budget because this is a simple figure to measure. The government’s budget is quantified as a gross domestic product, a measurement which addresses the allocation of resources by a government, not the intake of fiscal resources as Republican lawmakers may assert. Therefore, a government’s size is not determined by how much money the treasury produces in a fiscal year, but rather by how many resources are distributed as a consequence of government. Since carbon taxing is more efficient than command-and-control regulation at regulation greenhouse gas emissions, a carbon tax would technically decrease the size of government. That being the case, Republican lawmakers should promote the implementation of a carbon tax as it will benefit the goals of their party and create new economic and social opportunities.
Many Republican lawmakers also argue that adapting to climate change is economically and socially preferable to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The idea that adaptation, such as constructing dams to prevent flooding, is the most cost-effective response to climate change is not necessarily partisan. However, the costs created by adaptation should be the burden of those who have created the need for adaptation in the first place, greenhouse gas emitters. Carbon taxing creates a structure by which greenhouse gas emitters can be held responsible for their impacts on the environment. Furthermore, Republican lawmakers have also argued against a carbon tax because of how it would disproportionately affect lower-income communities. While this is a valid argument, the impact on lower-income communities is dependent upon the structure of the policy being implemented. Often it is the case that a carbon tax proposal involves more than one sector of the economy and works to promote progressive social change. Also, revenues from a carbon tax could be reallocated to promote government programs which support lower-income communities. Either way, this argument continues to ignore the fact that the alternative policy—command-and-control regulation—is also highly regressive. There are no sufficiently negative impacts of a carbon tax on social and economic institutions, so, Republican lawmakers should embrace the benefits which a carbon tax would provide.
Even if carbon taxation is the solution, Republican lawmakers still use what is known as the “knowledge problem” to defend their position against climate change policy. The knowledge problem, in economics, is a theory which explains that it is impossible to gather all of the data required to adequately assess certain economic factors because of how complicated underlying structures have become. Although there are risk factors associated with greenhouse gas emissions, they will never be satisfactorily quantified. The same goes for a host of factors such as the outcomes of fossil fuel use and government interventions. Most important, economists can not quantify with the perfect economic equilibrium is or when it will be achieved. The entire understanding of climate change, Republican lawmakers argue, is so riddled with statistical uncertainty that it is impossible to gauge what the effects of climate change will be or what the best way to confront those effects currently is. Although it holds true that there is a degree of uncertainty when it comes to the future of climate change, that is why it is important to take action now. In the face of major social and economic risk, attempting to control rising temperatures is a better solution than ignoring the potential threats and hoping for a good outcome. This type of reckless risk analysis goes against the beliefs instability which the Republican party upholds in other aspects of policy. Leaving climate change unaddressed could result in devastating economic loss and the collapse of populations which live in high-risk areas. Thus, even though there may be a lack of data in certain areas, Republican lawmakers should still feel compelled to act against climate change through risk assessment and management.
It is clear that the political choice to address climate change has been made, what now? The main conclusion to be drawn here is that catastrophic climate change events, such as the sudden collapse of massive ice sheets or major disruptions of large-scale weather patterns, is a risk that boasts unprecedented destruction. If a climate change catastrophe occurs, not only would lives be destroyed, but also major economic losses would occur. Our inability to accurately assess the risk associated with catastrophic events does not negate the fact that the threat is real and prevalent. Adopting a carbon tax would reflect the fact that there is a political, social, and economic cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions and that those costs must be internalized by producers and consumers. Therefore, Republican lawmakers must take action to spur change. By proposing a carbon tax, not only would the Republican party gain respect and traction amongst their Democratic counterparts, but also Republican lawmakers would be setting a precedent for future policies to incorporate environmental reform. The costs created by an efficient, revenue-neutral carbon tax would ultimately yield a smaller government, economic well being, and an improvement in Republican political prospects by addressing a problem which affects people across the board: climate change.
- Bhushal, Ramesh. “Introduction to Climate Change.” Earth Journalism Network, 6 June 2016, earthjournalism.net/resources/introduction-to-climate-change.
- “Carbon Tax Center.” Carbon Tax Center, 2019, www.carbontax.org.
- Carlock, Greg, and Emily Mangan. “A Green New Deal: A Progressive Vision for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability.” Data for Progress, Sept. 2018, filesforprogress.org/pdfs/Green_New_Deal.pdf.
- Denchak, Melissa. “Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, 10 Apr. 2019, www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know.
- Gale, William. “The Wisdom of a Carbon Tax.” The First Year Project, Volume 1: Why the First Year Matters, Bookings Institution, 2017, firstyear2017.org/essay/the-wisdom-of-a-carbon-tax.
- Marlon, Jennifer. “Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2018.” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 8 Aug. 2018, climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us-2018/?est=happening&type=value&geo=cd.
- Taylor, Jerry. “The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax.” Niskanen Center, 23 Mar. 2015, niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Conservative-Case-for-a-Carbon-Tax1.pdf.http:
- “The Size of the Federal Government.” Oxford University Press, Oxford University, 2010, global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/fdscontent/uscompanion/us/static/companion.websites/9780195387452/Using%20the%20GDP%20to%20Measure%20the%20Role%20and%20Size%20of%20Government%204-10.pdf.
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