Young Republicans Pushing Party on Climate

March 16, 2020

Above, Keira O’Brien, President of Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends, testifying before the US Senate last year.

Christian Science Monitor:

The red sign on the red-draped table reads, “Stop Socialism. Unleash Capitalism.” For an exhibitor at America’s largest annual conservative shindig, it’s a slogan as truism, as ubiquitous as U.S. flags and Make America Great Again caps.

But the actual political messaging by Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD) borders on subversive. At its booth, sandwiched between the Federalist Society and a pro-Electoral College group, smartly dressed students make the case for Republicans to accept mainstream climate science and support a carbon tax as a capitalist solution.

For a party whose titular head, President Donald Trump, rejects the established science and has torn up regulations that restrain carbon emissions, that sounds like a tough sell. And a tax is still a tax, even if the revenue is to be returned in full to taxpayers as a dividend. 

But when Elise LaFleur, a politics senior at Catholic University of America in Washington, drops by the YCCD booth, she comes away impressed. For her generation, global warming isn’t a hoax but a reality to be faced, the sooner the better. 

“It’s a conversation we need to be having,” she says. “Conservatives do care about the climate.”

From college campuses to Washington think tanks, the ground is shifting beneath the feet of a party that has long sought refuge in climate obfuscation. Republicans’ fitful efforts to correct course – and hold onto voters concerned about climate – have largely been eclipsed by President Trump’s regulatory bonfires and cheerleading for fossil fuels. But GOP lawmakers in Congress have begun to support various proposals aimed at limiting emissions, including a carbon dividend plan backed by banks, manufacturers, and energy companies.  

“The question is not whether or not you view climate change as an issue that requires a solution, but what is your policy and how do you intend to reduce carbon emissions?” says Ryan Costello, a Republican and former U.S. House representative who lobbies for the dividend plan.


You may notice pollster Frank Luntz in the foreground of the the video above.
Here is his full statement to Senator Schatz’ hearing.


This shift on the right hasn’t yet translated into votes in Congress. Eight bills have been introduced by Democrats in the House and Senate that would put a price on carbon, according to E&E News. But they have only a handful of Republican co-sponsors, and Rep. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican who has co-sponsored several such bills, is stepping down this year.

Moreover, some of the GOP solutions – planting trees, subsidizing technology – fall well short of a comprehensive approach to rival the Democrats’ aspirational Green New Deal. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled his climate platform in January, it avoided carbon taxes and didn’t set any overall targets for emissions cuts. 

This reluctance to grapple with carbon pricing is understandable, given where Republicans started, says Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a centrist think tank that supports a carbon tax. “Assembling a large coalition is an iterative process. These ideas need to be vetted and understood and stress-tested,” he says. 

For activists like Kiera O’Brien, a Harvard senior and president of YCCD, student-led advocacy on climate policy offers a path to prod Republican leaders off the fence. She’s tired of being asked by left-leaning students why conservatives are ignoring the climate crisis. She also knows that at partisan events like last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), critics might spy a sellout to the left’s climate agenda.  

“It’s not easy to be a sore thumb in the Republican Party saying, ‘We need a solution,’” she says.

But it is getting easier, says Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a conservative, pro-carbon-tax group that works on Capitol Hill, far from the grassroots foment at CPAC. In 2018, when he met with 82 Republican members of Congress, all but one acknowledged climate change was a reality,even though “they weren’t having that conversation publicly,” he says.

In 2019 “that conversation went public,” he says. GOP lawmakers “are now beginning to explore what are the policies they can embrace to address it, and what are the politics of those policies. Because they have to understand both.” 

Polls show that young conservatives are increasingly concerned about the climate and want to see action. In a Pew survey last October, more than half of millennial and Generation Z Republicans said the government wasn’t doing enough on climate, compared with 31% of boomers and those older. Still, a partisan divide remains: Among Democrats the overall share was 90%, compared with 39% for Republicans. 

And while voters express concern, the saliency of climate varies. In surveys taken over the past decade by Yale and George Mason universities, the share of Republicans who said global warming should be “a very high priority” for the federal government never broke 10%; among Democrats it rose from 20% in 2010 to 48% in 2019. 

Growing up in Alaska, which is warming faster than the rest of the continental United States, Ms. O’Brien could see the effects of climate change. She also warmed to the idea of a dividend from carbon taxes since Alaska has returned some of its oil wealth this way for decades; Ms. O’Brien’s parents saved their annual checks to help pay for her college tuition. 

That’s why she goes to bat for a carbon-tax plan at CPAC, as well as at environmental events where, as a Republican, she’s in the minority. 

The YCCD booth saw plenty of foot traffic, including young attendees who wanted selfies with the life-size cutouts of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush that bracketed the table. In Ms. O’Brien’s eyes, both presidents are reminders that Republicans can lead nationally and internationally on climate policy.

Some older attendees took offense. “You believe in climate change? That’s nuts,” a middle-aged man told a YCCD volunteer, who calmly tried to explain the science behind the policy. “You’re just taking what the media says,” the man scoffed, claiming that NASA data showed three years of falling global temperatures (in fact, 2019 was the second hottest year recorded, after 2016).

Ms. O’Brien says she’s not trying to convert older climate skeptics. Her goal is to find young conservatives interested in pursuing bipartisan solutions to a self-evident problem. 

“Republicans have abandoned this issue to the Democratic Party for the past 30 years. As a young Republican, that is unacceptable,” she says. 

Mr. Costello, a two-term representative from Pennsylvania who stepped down in 2018, says that Democrats may be out front on climate but they’re divided on what to do. “The Democrats have not unified around a particular solution and nor have Republicans. What I’d like to see is Republicans unify around this solution,” he says, referring to carbon dividends. 

5 Responses to “Young Republicans Pushing Party on Climate”

  1. Keith Omelvena Says:

    “The red sign on the red-draped table reads, “Stop Socialism.” No welfare for the fracking, or airline industry then. Just for consistency and not being f#cking hypocrites sake?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Aye, on one of those stock market investor shows, one of the guests was talking about possibly needing to bail out the fracking industry. Gah!

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Nice clip, with some good commentary from a smart young lady. Unfortunately, YOUNG Republicans become OLD Republicans all too soon, and Republicans of all ages pay little attention to women, so BFD—-the number of views this has received on Youtube (almost none) is a clue to how far she is going to get in the RWNJ world.. Remember Rule #!—-“Getting rich is the only goal”. And Rule #2 as well—-“There is no rule beyond Rule #1”

  3. otter17 Says:

    My problem with the whole premise of a group like YCCD is that we have a political party and a whole philosophy that has been devoted for over 30 years to the insane mental gymnastics of climate denial, and similar parties around the world that accept the science often downplay it. Why should we believe you truly care about adequately resolving the issue? It would seem loyalty to a political ideology matters more than having the open mind to jump ships to a party/philosophy that has had a history of trying to solve the problem all along.

    Also… YCCD could very well also stand for Young Climate Change Deniers, hehe, only posing half-measures that attempt to satisfy the political demand for a solution without fully solving the problem.

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    “GOP lawmakers in Congress have begun to support various proposals aimed at limiting emissions, including a carbon dividend plan ”

    No, they’ve continued with their strategy to delay any climate action, and preserve the power of corporations, especially fossil and fissile fuel corporations. A carbon dividend at this point is a move to make no move, a resolution against progress, adamant for strandedness. It’s a trap to prevent overwhelming action on real solutions.

    The Niskanen Center is a right wing PR firm that has deigned to accept the science of climate catastrophe. Like Morano, they’re in it to keep Republicans in power, despite the party’s pervasive insanity not just on climate but on every subject imaginable.

    “more than half of millennial and Generation Z Republicans said the government wasn’t doing enough on climate”

    That’s great. But 75-95% of people in the US support unions, universal health care, higher minimum wages, more equality, less power for the rich, significantly higher taxes on corporations and the rich, more control on the financial industry, funding for climate and ecological research, reducing poverty, (very or extremely important) getting money out of politics, parental and medical leave, federally negotiated lower drug prices, background checks, more openness to immigrants, a POTUS candidate who’s a socialist, phasing out fossil fuels, more wind, solar, and government help for them, are cautious, concerned or alarmed about climate. And more.

    But we don’t have any of those things, because the very rich oppose them–especially the virtually-unanimous Republican delegation in Congress, the White House, and federal courts. The idea that the changing opinions of millennial Republicans will have any significant effect on Republican policies on climate is almost criminally naive.

    “Why conservatives keep gaslighting the nation about climate change
    Republican climate rhetoric shifts (again), but the goal remains the same.”
    https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/10/22/18007922/climate-change-republicans-denial-marco-rubio-trump


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