By Bob Inglis, republicEn.org
By acting decisively on climate change, we have a shot at being another “greatest generation”. Our record will be marred by some slowness to the cause, but the World War II generation was slow to the cause until there was a Pearl Harbor.
We won’t be all pure, but neither were they. They accepted the redlining of neighborhoods and segregated schools; we continue to struggle with racial injustices today. They were criticized for the bombing of Dresden; we botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Perhaps an acknowledgment of imperfection is a good way to approach climate change. Having spent six of my 12 years in Congress disputing the science of climate change, I know what it is to have been wrong. We all need grace on climate change because we’re all complicit. None of us can claim righteousness.
Modernity has a waste stream of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Just as we treat and try to reduce sewage waste, we need to find ways to treat and reduce our greenhouse gas waste stream.
The 243 scientists who drafted the most recent IPCC report are telling us that we need to find solutions fast. Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Global surface temperatures have increased faster in the last 50 years than in any other 50-year period over the preceding 2000 years.
Solving climate change is the biggest thing this generation is being called on to do. The first step is to move beyond the grudging compromise of hyper-partisanship and graduate to creative collaboration. Climate change is too big of a problem for small mindedness.
We have a good example of collaboration in the Senate’s recent passage of the infrastructure package. Thankfully, we also have the collection of one-handed economists that President Truman had hoped to find in the Greatest Generation.
Far from being the “on the one hand, on the other hand” economists that Truman found so frustrating, today’s economists from across the ideological spectrum agree: the most effective and efficient measure for reducing carbon emissions is a price on carbon dioxide.
Polluters get away with dumping their greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at no cost to themselves. The damages caused by that wanton dumping fall on all us—farmers suffer droughts, westerners face fires, coastal states see sea levels rising, the Southeast (and even the Northeast with Hurricane Ida) face more intense and more rain-soaked hurricanes. Lives and livelihoods are lost, and taxpayers pay for the cleanup.
A carbon tax would bring accountability. Just as we make people connect to the city sewer rather than letting them dump for free into streams and rivers, a price on carbon dioxide would help us manage greenhouse gases. Products with larger waste streams of greenhouse gases would carry higher costs into the marketplace. Products with a smaller carbon footprint could be sold for less. Consumers, in the liberty of enlightened self-interest, would choose the cleaner products because they’d be cheaper.
For progressives and conservatives who care, there’s a way to avoid the problem inherent in a carbon tax—that it hits poor people harder than wealthy people. A $40 per ton price on carbon dioxide would increase the price of gasoline by about 36 cents per gallon. Not a big deal for the wealthy; but a bigger deal for a poor person. By pairing a carbon tax with a reduction in payroll taxes (FICA), the working poor could actually be made better off.
Understandably, lawmakers might be eyeing new revenue from a carbon tax for other uses as well. The Niskanen Center says that a carbon tax as low as $7 per ton could pay for the $256 billion a year called for in the Senate’s recently passed infrastructure package. A carbon tax in the $40 per ton range would cover the cost of the infrastructure bill and permit a major reduction in payroll taxes, thereby reducing the regressivity of the carbon tax.
If we’re to be another greatest generation, we’ll need to rediscover what they had: a sense of the common good. They accepted rationing of sugar and butter. They bought war bonds. They were “lights out” at the beaches to keep our ships from being silhouetted targets for enemy fire.
Would we demand sugar and butter? Would we be willing to pay a price? Would we demand our “freedom” to keep our lights on at the beach?
It’s time to rise.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC4 1993-1999; 2005-2011) leads republicEn.org, a growing group of conservatives who care about climate change.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.