Republicans show they can take lead on climate change

Louis Merlin

Conventional wisdom is that only Democrats, environmentalists and scientists are concerned about climate change. But as a citizen volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I encounter people from all parts of the political spectrum who are ready for positive action to address our climate challenge.

There are current and former elected officials such as Republican Bob Inglis; Libertarian thought leaders from think tanks such as the Niskanen Center; oil industry representatives from companies such as Royal Dutch Shell; and the website RepublicEN, which is forming a coalition of Republican “climate realists.” What these Republican-affiliated people and organizations have in common is an understanding of the risks posed by climate change alongside a positive vision of the potential for our energy future.

U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., along with 10 Republican co-sponsors, this fall proposed legislation that “commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism ... to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates

Similarly, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has formed an environment working group with three other GOP senators. The goal is to find “how we can best protect our environment and climate, pursue common sense and market-based reforms to grow our economy, and promote cleaner energy production.” Republican elected officials are slowly but surely finding their voice on climate change, and at a crucial time.

Recent surveys from the University of Michigan and the University of Texas suggest the percentage of Americans who believe that climate change is happening has reached a recent high of 70 percent, including 56 percent of self-identified Republicans. The political challenge today is less about whether climate change is happening but on what we should we do about it.

So, what might a Republican policy on climate change look like? One possibility is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Revenue neutrality can be achieved through reductions in other forms of taxation, or through dividend payments issued directly to households. Through revenue neutrality, the policy can ensure that the size of government does not grow while providing a stimulatory effect on the economy by reducing less efficient forms of taxation. At the same time, a carbon tax would provide strong market incentives for businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers to seek alternatives to fossil fuels.

With the cost of renewable energy reaching new lows, we now have the technology to shift toward a low-carbon, energy-efficient economy, while also promoting economic growth. So the next time you hear someone assume that climate change is stuck in the old debate of believer vs. denier, don’t buy it. Instead the relevant question is where the leadership will come from to help Michiganders and Americans build our energy future.

Louis Merlin researches transportation planning at the University of Michigan.