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Market Solutions to Climate Change: An Opportunity for Bipartisanship

In contemporary American politics, environmentalism is almost exclusively associated with the Left. This is an odd phenomenon, for conservationism and conservatism both stem from the same impulse: a desire to preserve one’s inheritance, to be cultivated and passed onwards for posterity. Still, despite this apparent congruity, American conservatives have ceded ground to their political opponents on environmentalist sentiment for decades.

But this is changing. On the issue of climate change, in particular, younger Republicans are virtually indistinguishable from Democrats within the same age range. According to new polling, 77 percent of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 38 say that climate change is a serious threat, as compared to only 51 percent of Republicans over the age of 39. This generational divide is observable in a host of young activist groups like the American Conservation Coalition, a prominent new nonprofit founded by conservative millennials which advocates for “a mix of free-market, pro-business, and limited-government environmentalism in legislatures, college campuses, the political arena, and beyond.” The newest generation of Republican politicians also tend to be noticeably more engaged in the discussion of environmentalist initiatives, with young GOP congressmen like Dan Crenshaw, Garrett Graves and Carlos Curbelo all energetically proposing a host of market-based alternatives to progressive environmental legislative efforts like the Green New Deal.

These new developments present an exciting opportunity for the crafting of effective, bipartisan policy solutions to climate change, but they are accompanied by new challenges that will have to be overcome. Specifically, left-wing environmentalists must be willing to compromise with those across the aisle if they wish to pass policies to address environmental concerns. This could initially prove to be difficult: as a consequence of progressivism’s monopoly over issues like climate change, environmentalism is often associated with the broader progressive agenda, and proponents of “climate justice” argue that solutions to climate change must also aim to solve income inequality, gender issues, racial injustice, and a litany of other problems that have a tenuous relationship to carbon emissions and rising global temperatures. Saikat Chakrabarti, the former chief of staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, articulated this view earlier this year when he admitted to the Washington Post that the Green New Deal “wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” but rather a “how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

In order to pass important environmental legislation, progressives must be willing to compromise rather than insist on pairing environmentalism with social justice initiatives that cause conservatives to balk. The variety of market-based solutions proposed by conservative environmentalists have the potential to be enormously effective in the fight against climate change, but those who wish to use the issue of climate change as a tool for the radical transformation of America’s economic system will have little luck finding common ground with otherwise sympathetic compatriots on the other side of the aisle.

“The policy solutions that are going to be most effective at reducing greenhouse gases quickly don’t require that we go on a larger political project of change,” says Joseph Majkut, the director of climate policy for the Niskanen Center, a politically idiosyncratic D.C.-based think tank that works extensively on bipartisan climate policies. “The system as it’s organized today can be modified to reduce greenhouse gases, and then we can talk about ways to make sure that poor and vulnerable people are not adversely affected by that policy change. But I think that if we have to solve American politics before we solve climate change, we’re going to have a real problem.”

The good news is that markets are perhaps the most effective tool for combating climate change. An increased government presence in some areas of the economy might be necessary to harness the market’s potential—Majkut is working on carbon pricing legislation that he hopes could be attractive to both Democrats and Republicans—but the spontaneous order of the market, with the right set of incentives, is uniquely situated to attack the climate challenge from the bottom up. Although well-intentioned, central planning schemes like the Green New Deal are incapable of addressing the issue with the same efficiency.

“Allowing for markets to be the tool we use instead of mandates is going to be an important jump [for the Left],” says Majkut. “Respecting the history of successful environmental regulation that we have, the climate problem for greenhouse gas emissions is so pervasive in everyday life, and it comes from so many different sectors and places and corners of the economy, that we need to use tools to get everybody on board. It’s going to be a very hard challenge to manage from desks at the EPA. We’d much rather have leadership teams at every firm in the United States figuring out how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while still meeting the needs of their customers.”

Progressive environmentalists should welcome the addition of young conservatives to the broader environmentalist movement, but they must check some of their legislative ambitions at the door in order to pass meaningful, effective environmentalist policies. Similarly, conservative environmentalists will have to open themselves to the possibility of a federal government that is occasionally more activist than they might prefer: Directing market mechanisms towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require the government to incentivize innovation around the reduction of private industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. But the free market continues to be our best bet in the pursuit of a greener future.

For some on the environmentalist Left, this is an unsatisfactory conclusion. The more radically anti-capitalist segment of the environmentalist movement views ending climate change as concomitant with ending capitalism. Naomi Klein, the author of the influential 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate recently remarked: “I find myself more and more impatient with these ideas that the climate solutions we should be proposing are the ones that pacify the Right and that reassure a world based on a hierarchy of human lives and domination…you have all of these so-called climate-policy experts who say we should be talking about a revenue-neutral carbon tax, nuclear power, and geoengineering because that is not threatening to people who hold that worldview.” In other words, Klein continued, “I think we need to get the scale of the transformation right and the conversation right, that we are talking about changing how we live; we’re talking about changing our economy.” The headline of an op-ed published last year in the Guardian is even more blunt: “Ending Climate Change Requires the End of Capitalism.”

By contrast, many on the Right are still unwilling to come to terms with climate change as an issue that requires government intervention. This is changing, but conservatives still have significant work to do in order to offer meaningful alternatives to progressive climate legislation, as opposed to merely poking fun at the more absurd elements of the environmentalist movement.

Compromise will be necessary, as it often is in our constitutional system. But those with a genuine interest in climate solutions should view these developments as an exciting opportunity. On environmental issues, the Left and the Right may find there is fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation: a welcome tonic for our polarizing times.

 

Nate Hochman is a junior at Colorado College studying political science. You can follow him on Twitter @njhochman

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Comments

  1. “Saikat Chakrabarti, the former chief of staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, articulated this view earlier this yearwhen he admitted to the Washington Post that the Green New Deal “wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” but rather a “how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

    “Naomi Klein, the author of the influential 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climaterecently remarked: “I find myself more and more impatient with these ideas that the climate solutions we should be proposing are the ones that pacify the right and that reassure a world based on a hierarchy of human lives and domination…you have all of these so-called climate-policy experts who say we should be talking about a revenue-neutral carbon tax, nuclear power, and geoengineering because that is not threatening to people who hold that worldview.” In other words, Klein continued, “I think we need to get the scale of the transformation right and the conversation right, that we are talking about changing how we live; we’re talking about changing our economy.”

    How does one compromise with people who are insincere about the problem. Both quotes above claim the Left is advocating for “X” to get “Y”. This is called “bait and switch” and is fraud. The author cites groups of young people in the right who are willing to compromise. Who are their counterparts on the Left?

    “For some on the environmentalist Left, this is an unsatisfactory conclusion. The more radically anti-capitalist segment of the environmentalist movement views ending climate change as concomitant with ending capitalism.”

    These are the people in control of the movement. The article does a good job of exposing how climate change is more about an attack on capitalism.

  2. “directing market mechanisms towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require the government to incentivize innovation around the reduction of private industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. But the free market continues to be our best bet in the pursuit of a greener future.”

    Requiring the government to “incentivize” (by not throwing someone in jail or taking all their stuff? or by handing out buckets of cash?) is not “the free market”. It is government pandering to young people that have been thoroughly indoctrinated by fear mongering socialists by creating new grifter programs. Nothing new with government grifter programs, but let’s at least be honest about what it is: a money grab for “feelings.”

  3. “Ending Climate Change Requires the End of Capitalism.”

    What a crock. Ending capitalism would cause birth rates to spiral out of control, where, at the moment, a significant portion of population growth comes from people in the Developing World living longer (how inconvenient of them). It would plunge at least 2 billion of the recently emancipated from absolute poverty to slide back into destitution. The environmental footprint per person would increase, not decrease, especially in poor countries where a return to burning kerosene to cook would likely be the only option. The intensive farming of capitalism is the only thing that keeps the world feed, and is allowing vast tracts of land in the northern hemisphere to be returned to nature.

    But worst of all it would stall the process of innovation that we so desperately need to tackle climate change. Whether through the market, or using revenue raised from market activities, capitalism powers innovation- it’s about the only thing that does it well. Besides what’s the alternative- Socialism, Keynesian economics, I think you’ll find that both systems were more needlessly worse for the environment, than free market capitalism ever was.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of wasteful activities we are engaged in that could be lessened. I would certainly welcome manufactured goods with longer guarantees, even if they were a little more expensive. Government is certainly necessary for projects like nuclear, because the market doesn’t like the risk profile that an irrational public and the political classes represent, without the security of sovereign backing. And this is vital to guarantee the 40% of total energy consumption that is necessary from base load energy sources like Big Hydro or Nuclear.

    Economic progress might have been what got us into trouble with climate change, but is also the only thing that can solve the problem, over the long term. To believe otherwise, is tantamount to admitting that we can never solve the problem. Gather the greatest minds of all our generations, the great thinkers, the scientists and most committed humanists and pit them against the iterative power of the market paired with the human aspiration to live better, and the market will triumph every time, accomplishing more good along way. Because humans have to chose the best solutions, flailing around in the dark on the basis of some pretty big assumptions- whereas the market doesn’t need to chose, it is like nature- it picks every solution, and ruthlessly discards everything that doesn’t work.

    A great article though. Gets to the heart of the real obstacle to progress on climate change. People should check out William Nordhaus and the dice model. His views on the way the Left’s Luddite tendencies obstruct progress on climate change are highly informative.

  4. Common in this sort of conversation are claims that a carbon tax, apparently a “market solution”, is the most effective means of reducing carbon emissions. Maybe it’s effective, maybe not.

    But this is not a market solution. It’s market interference by government. It’s heavy-handed government sold as a market solution.

    The real solutions will be market solutions, when innovators create and sell technologies that can address some of the climate change issues.

  5. How much longer can Greta Thunberg style environmentalism be coupled to mass immigration? How can you be a conservationist and at the same time be for open borders in all of the North and Western Hemisphere as is the current position of the Sierra Club in the United States ?

    Life in the temperate zones of this planet is much more energy intensive than is life at the equator. People who migrate North for what ever reason, as economic migrants or refugees ,all want to live in a heated and or air conditioned home, own an automobile and have many, many children.

    Why are we making so few demands on China and India, the worlds two biggest polluters, to help with the climate " emergency?"

    You can not separate the Communist impulse that underlies the more extreme factions of the environmental movement. My German friends call the Green party the Watermelon party, i.e. Green on the outside but beet red in the middle.

  6. The rationale for the Carbon Tax is the more one taxes something the less of it there will be, which is true. Oddly this argument evaporates and is suddenly no longer applicable when the discussion involves taxing income or economic activity.

  7. The alternative is gridlock, and that is what I would recommend. Government should do nothing about climate change, lest in their short-sightedness they generate unforeseen consequences. Remember how the biofuels fad caused a spike in food prices that destabilized the Middle East? No more of that, please.

    One thing I could get on board with is ending corporate welfare for oil companies and all other businesses. I could also support deregulating nuclear power and domestic mining so we could let the market decide which energy sources are preferable. Maybe put tariffs on oil coming out of Middle East dictatorships.

  8. Well, Venezuela’s CO2 emissions have gone down.

  9. In the 1970s, leading client experts were looking into covering the Arctic with black soot to melt the ice due to fears about an impending ice age. Today, they are looking at geoengineering involving releasing pollutants into the atmosphere to counter the increased CO2.

    Many cities have laws restricting or banning disposable plastic bags in grocery stores. Some of us are old enough to remember when the environmental experts forced the change from paper to plastic grocery bags on the grounds that plastic was better for the environment because deforestation was an existential threat.

  10. France gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear, which is a good thing. But the rest of the world is not following suit and the greens hate nuclear. And electricity accounts for only one quarter of global CO2 emissions.

    “With Tesla’s million mile battery going into production this year, people will no longer be able to ignore the fact that, despite a high sticker price, EV’s will be considerably cheaper over the lifetime of a vehicle, than considerably inferior cars.”

    I don’t share your optimism for EVs which represent a niche market and are not a viable transportation solution for the masses. EVs do not do well in the cold. The range is too short,
    recharge times are too long. Doesn’t work for people like me who live in apartments, etc. https://www.carscoops.com/2020/01/electric-vehicle-sales-fall-despite-a-proliferation-of-new-models/

    “There will be disruption at this level of warming. People within 1 and 1.5 metres of sea level will have to move”

    Nonsense. Population trends show people moving towards the coasts, not away from them. The Netherlands learned how to cope with living below sea level 400 years ago. Sea levels have been rising for 20,000 years. The rate of rise has not changed since the mid 19th century. The Maldives were supposed to be underwater already. So was lower Manhattan. When doomsday predictions fail, as they repeatedly have, the date of the impending disaster is simply moved back.

  11. “On environmental issues, the Left and the Right may find there is fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation”

    The left and right did find such a compromise in Germany. It resulted in the worst energy policy ever. Spend half a trillion dollars to get no material CO2 reductions while doubling electricity prices.

    Any sensible policy prescription on reducing CO2 emissions would require ignoring just about everything the left has to say on the topic.

  12. The rate on the East coast of the US is 2.8 mm per year, or 28 centimeters per century. Human beings have been reclaiming land from the sea for a long time. Marco Island in Florida and The Palm in Dubai, are just two examples. The slow pace of sea rise gives humans plenty of time to adapt.

    You have more patience than most people. 40 minutes is a long time to wait. And what happens when there are four or five people ahead you in the line? Also, the time varies considerably depending on how much juice a particular charger has. https://pod-point.com/guides/driver/how-long-to-charge-an-electric-car

    Tell that to people who live in rural areas. Or people who like to go camping, fishing, hiking, etc.

    “As we are on course to have hybrid passenger planes by 2040, and fully electric passenger planes by 2050.”

    Even if the wildly optimistic projections prove true you are talking about small planes that fly less than 1,000 miles and carry 100 or fewer passengers between regional airports. That is not going to eliminate long distance car travel. Nor is it going to make a much of a dent in global aviation which will remain powered by liquid fuel. Finally, the challenge is not just to develop the technology but to make it profitable. If the electric planes can’t make money, they will go the way of the Concord if they ever get off the ground at all.

  13. You speak so blithely of compromise? You who have stolen my dreams?! How dare you!

  14. I like Teslas, they are cool. But it is not good for the EV market generally that Tesla dominates the market. Teslas are expensive cars for affluent people making life style choices most of whom own other (gas powered) vehicles they can use when the Tesla is not appropriate. Tesla is a niche product, not a mass market product. And Tesla has not yet figured out how to make cars at a profit. The company’s future hinges on Elon Musk’s marketing skills and continued ability to keep investors happy and procure financing.

  15. Greta told the Davos crowd that the world needs to go zero carbon immediately. And of course Al Gore, the media and everyone cheered. A 17 year old tells the world to shut down civilization as we know it and commit mass suicide and is treated like a visionary heroine. The author suggests that those of us who don’t want to freeze or starve to death should reach political compromise with the likes of Greta & Al. No thank you.

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