In the face of drought, record heat, flash floods and smoke from forest fires, it was hard not to recognize the effects of global warming this summer. In this context, a crowd of high school students marched on the steps of the capital in Salt Lake City to demand climate action as part of Friday’s global climate strike.
We are grateful that so many young people care about this important issue. But we would like to add some perspective to the conversation from our perspective as young conservatives. Protesters this weekend called on lawmakers to respond urgently to climate change, but we would like to explain how they could respond effectively as well.
Which policies are the most effective?
The best policies protect America from the worst possible environmental and economic consequences. As Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, has often explained, managing climate risk is like buying an insurance policy: hedging against an uncertain future, but getting premiums as low as possible. The goal is to minimize the total costs to American families, which includes the costs of climate change and the costs of the policies themselves.
Thinking about climate action in this way exposes many climate initiatives as ineffective or fanciful, like the Green New Deal, which uses environmental rhetoric as a mask for more sweeping economic goals.
But there are proposals that pass the economic cost test. Among these is the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends framework that several Republican college leaders from BYU and UVU endorse. Despite America’s bitterly polarized political landscape, there is a virtual consensus among economists on the merits of this political approach. This solidarity is possible because independent organizations have modeled the costs and benefits of this plan, both for the climate and for the economy, and have repeatedly confirmed its effectiveness.
For those of us who don’t have the training to dissect these complex business models, there are a few other ways to recognize the superiority of market-based approaches like carbon dividends. Perhaps the easiest is to examine the effect on global (not just national) carbon emissions.
Even if every car and chimney in America stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, there would still be too much carbon entering the atmosphere in the world (not to mention that you might have a hard time getting to work. and power your home). Unfortunately, many climate plans ignore this reality, and the climate conversation is often dominated by liberal voices who want to dramatically increase regulations on U.S. businesses. Their logic is that if the United States leads by decarbonizing its own economy, other countries will follow our lead.
The reality is that when the United States – whose carbon emissions have been steadily declining for years – clamp down on its own carbon emissions, it will inadvertently cause companies to move their operations to countries like China and India with a lot less environmental regulations. Not only will this lead to worse environmental outcomes, but it will also shift investment and employment opportunities overseas. Far from setting an example, this approach will weaken the US economy, while giving other nations a reason to resist decarbonization.
We cannot wait for other countries to adopt our environmental agenda without offering them the means to do so. As Senator Mitt Romney, who has advocated for market-based climate action, recently explained, global emission reductions will not happen without breakthrough new technologies.
When clean energy becomes cheaper than dirtier alternatives, developing countries will naturally move away from carbon. But this will require significant innovation from private companies. The United States (and, in many ways, Utah!) Is helping lead the innovation process, but there are ways to speed it up.
The previously mentioned carbon dividend plan uses an adjustment to the carbon frontier, coupled with a carbon price, to address these challenges. It would hold foreign manufacturers accountable for their pollution – and in so doing, level the playing field for American businesses – and spur the innovation needed to develop cheaper clean energy.
And that’s just the beginning. Carbon pricing would also make nuclear power more competitive, encourage fossil fuel companies to expand carbon capture, and produce other valuable climate outcomes, all without a dime in additional government spending. No wonder this policy has the support of environmental groups and industry leaders, as well as influential Utahns and conservative voters.
Now is not the time to pretend climate change is a hoax. But if we are not careful in answering them, we may find that we are only pretending to solve the problem.
With a smart and internationally oriented strategy like Baker-Shultz, we can get straight to the point and deliver concrete results on climate change. In every way, that would make all the difference.
Tyler Cooper is the vice president of UVU College Republicans and Andrew Sandstrom is a past president of BYU College Republicans.