The title of this column comes from a column my good friend, co-author of “This Spaceship Earth” and co-founder of ThisSpaceshipEarth.Org Tim Rumage. His column was “Physics is Not Political”. Well worth the quick read.
That column came to mind two weeks ago when a very special event occurred. The Wise Elders of the Republican Party came out for a carbon tax. The depth and seniority of the initial group is truly amazing:
James Baker Secretary of State for George H.W.Bush
Martin Feldstein Chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors
George Schultz, Secretary of State for Reagan
Henry Paulson, Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush
Gregory Mankiw, Chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors
In addition to these Wise Republican Elders there are three other distinguished members:
Thomas Stephenson, a partner of Sequioa Capital,
Rob Walton, former Chairman of the Board of Walmart
Ted Halsted, founder of the Climate Leadership Council
These men are not environmental activists, or progressive Democrats or second tier former government officials. They are a group of the most distinguished members of the executive branch of government to have served in the last three Republican administrations.
Their stature and the pure, effective simplicity of the proposal can mean the end of the politicization of Climate Change. It is not an issue of party. It is not an issue of politics. It is simple use of market economics that also solves the urgent necessity of lowering fossil fuel emissions ASAP. It is a straightforward proposal that could result in an estimated 25-30% reduction of carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2025.
The lead spokesman for the group so far has been James Baker, probably the most high profile and still active Republican member of the group. Baker stated that initially the tax would be $40 a ton when fossil fuels enter the economy, be it from a domestic well or mine or at a port. The revenue estimate for the initial $40 a ton is $200 to 300 billion per year. Obviously such a tax would not only raise revenue but also the cost of living. So the proposal is to take the hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue and provide a “carbon dividend” to the American public. The estimate at the initial tax of $40 is approximately $2,000 for a family of four.
In addition, if any country that wants to import products into the U.S. and they don’t have a carbon tax, the U.S. government would place a tariff on those goods to match the percentage increase in price that the tax creates. That means that any country that wants to import into the U.S. will have a choice of two options. First, they can impose a carbon tax in their own country, generating taxes that created similar situations in their own countries. Second, they can accept the “carbon tariff” and the U.S. generates even greater carbon tax revenues to be distributed to Americans.
The proposal is suggested as an alternative to the regulations put in place under the Obama administration. The proposal from the Wise Elders of the Republican Party is presented as a “free market” alternative to regulation. It is therefore something that Republicans, Libertarians, and small government anti –regulation politicians can all support. That basically includes most of the Republican Party, the party that is most identified with Climate Change denial.
In these highly politicized times, if often takes coalitions of odd bedfellows to create a break through. This is clearly one of those times. Anyone who thinks that Climate Change is the existential threat that it is must support this proposal and applaud those that put it forward. This is nothing less that a breakthrough opportunity.
There is precedence to a carbon tax that points to how effective it can be to lower carbon use. In 1964 the Surgeon General of the U.S. put out a report that for the first time connected smoking to lung cancer, heart disease and death. At that time 43% of all American adults smoked cigarettes. That report triggered some decline in smoking, but not much. We knew it was bad for us but we didn’t really stop. Today we know that putting CO2 into the atmosphere is bad for all living things, but we still do it.
The number of American adults who smoke is now 17%. In 1964 a pack of cigarettes averaged $.30 a pack in the U.S. Today the average price is $7.26, with a range from $4.98 in Virginia to $13.50 in New York. This increase far outpaces inflation. The increases are mostly the result of ever increasing federal, state and local taxes. Tax a product, and then raise that tax, and the use of that product declines. Here is a short improvised video I did about this on the ThisSpaceshipEarth.Org You Tube channel about this topic.
So, it is time to embrace the free market proposal of the Wise Elders of the Republican Party and support it becoming a reality. The politics can end, and we can move forward on a brilliant idea that will allow us to tell our children and grandchildren that we actually did something for them.