An Idea Whose Time has Come – Reclaiming the “Conserve” in Conservatism
April 9, 2013
In the video above, I contrasted the wreckage of Fox-encrusted, racist, theocratic, knee-jerk know-nothing, tea pottied nativist reflexes that “conservativism” has become, with something closer to actual conservatism as we used to know it – featuring Margaret Thatcher’s address to the United Nations in which she warned urgently about climate change. Thatcher had an actual science background, and shows in the video clips above just how much she was listening to purported “advice” from idiots like “Lord” Monckton.
“We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late. That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe. It endures as we eat and sleep, work and rest, as we are born and as we pass away. The duty to Nature will remain long after our own endeavors have brought peace to the Middle East. It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs.” –Speech to World Climate Conference, November 6, 1990
More evidence of a gathering initiative to reclaim the “conserve” in “conservatism”. This week, former Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz cowrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing the merits of a price on carbon – to begin reflecting something dimly approximating the actual costs to society of fossil fuel dependence.
Conservative economists George Schultz and Gary Becker wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Monday advocating for a revenue-neutral carbon tax on the grounds that it will level the playing field for energy producers and eliminate wasteful energy subsidies.
“Clearly, a revenue-neutral carbon tax would benefit all Americans by eliminating the need for costly energy subsidies while promoting a level playing field for energy producers,” wrote Schultz and Becker in the Journal.
Schultz and Becker invoked the conservative argument that fossil fuel energy producers should not receive any special privileges and should pay the full cost of their actions. In this case, that would mean paying for the social costs imposed on public health and the climate from emitting carbon dioxide.
Americans like to compete on a level playing field. All the players should have an equal opportunity to win based on their competitive merits, not on some artificial imbalance that gives someone or some group a special advantage.
We think this idea should be applied to energy producers. They all should bear the full costs of the use of the energy they provide. Most of these costs are included in what it takes to produce the energy in the first place, but they vary greatly in the price imposed on society by the pollution they emit and its impact on human health and well-being, the air we breathe and the climate we create. We should identify these costs and see that they are attributed to the form of energy that causes them.
At the same time, we should seek out the many forms of subsidy that run through the entire energy enterprise and eliminate them. In their place we propose a measure that could go a long way toward leveling the playing field: a revenue-neutral tax on carbon, a major pollutant. A carbon tax would encourage producers and consumers to shift toward energy sources that emit less carbon—such as toward gas-fired power plants and away from coal-fired plants—and generate greater demand for electric and flex-fuel cars and lesser demand for conventional gasoline-powered cars.
In the case of administration by the IRS, an annual distribution could be made to every taxpayer and recipient of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In the case of the SSA, the distribution could be made, in terms proportionate to the dollars involved, to everyone either paying into the system or receiving benefits from it. In any case, checks to recipients should be identified as “Your carbon dividend.”
The authors recommended “reasonable and sustained” R&D in the energy area, but subsidies to particular energy forms should be phased out, and would “eliminate any program (loan guarantees, etc.) that tempts the government to get into commercial activities.”
When Utah’s newest congressman opined last month that he isn’t convinced that human activity is responsible for climate change, or that climate change is as much of a threat as scientists are warning it is, he took a position that a new poll suggests increasing numbers of his own Republican Party are abandoning. So, too, are more and more independents who lean toward the GOP.
The results of the poll by George Mason and Yale universities released last week show that more than three quarters of the 726 Republicans and independents polled favor using renewable energy much or somewhat more than it is today. Only slightly fewer indicated that moving toward alternative energies should begin immediately.
Without reading too much into the results of a single poll, it is possible to interpret them as an encouraging sign that the political polarization that has grown up around the science of climate change and development of renewable forms of energy finally is beginning to crack.
Given the gravity of the threat posed by the greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm, it would be welcome news indeed if the poll accurately reflects the beginnings of a bipartisan consensus on climate change and what should be done about it. For without that consensus, still more time will be wasted before the United States acts decisively to limit carbon emissions, time that scientists say is in dangerously short supply if the worst consequences of climate change are to be avoided.
This team of top climate scientists has concluded that our region of the country is hotter than it has ever been and that it will get hotter — because of humans. The last decade was the hottest the Southwestern U.S. has experienced — on average 2 degrees warmer than it had been historically. The scientists project a further increase over the next 50 years of 6 to 9 degrees if we do nothing.
The report should be a wake-up call for leaders in Washington to overcome gridlock and start working on solutions. For models of how to proceed, they need only look to California and other states and cities that have begun to move forward in a bipartisan way.
The first step for policymakers — and for ordinary citizens too — is to understand the situation we face, which means carefully reading the National Climate Assessment. It may not be as gripping to look at or have the provocative appeal of a raging wildfire or another act of God, but the knowledge in this report is crucial to understanding how to change, to adapt, to prevent and to prepare for future disasters.
It’s our duty to pay attention.
The Reagan administration was generally skeptical about costly environmental rules, but with respect to protection of the ozone layer, Reagan was an environmentalist hero. Under his leadership, the United States became the prime mover behind the Montreal Protocol, which required the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.
There is a real irony here. Republicans and conservatives had ridiculed scientists who expressed concern about the destruction of the ozone layer. How did Ronald Reagan, of all people, come to favor aggressive regulatory steps and lead the world toward a strong and historic international agreement?
A large part of the answer lies in a tool disliked by many progressives but embraced by Reagan (and Mr. Obama): cost-benefit analysis. Reagan’s economists found that the costs of phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals were a lot lower than the costs of not doing so — largely measured in terms of avoiding cancers that would otherwise occur. Presented with that analysis, Reagan decided that the issue was pretty clear.