By Ronnie Thompson
In today’s political atmosphere, which is complete with broad parties that aggressively claim ownership of certain issues, many voters have trouble finding a true place of belonging on the political spectrum. Sadly, it’s a common belief that fighting climate change is a strictly liberal issue, and this way of thinking is incredibly dangerous in that it further polarizes our society and reduces the possibility of bipartisan policy initiatives. For decades, Democrats have acted alone in environmental policy initiatives by instituting crippling governmental regulations that have in fact done little to improve this dire situation. It’s time for this to change. With control in all three branches of government in Washington, Republicans ought to act now to confront the monumental environmental problems that we face through the use of market-based solutions.
In wake of three consecutive hurricanes, each of which exerted striking levels of force, climate change has resurfaced as a topic worth discussing. Although this sequence is not the direct result of climate change –instead being a natural occurrence – altering environmental conditions are undoubtedly creating stronger storms. According to many experts, the combination of increased sea levels and atmospheric temperatures, each effects of climate change, foster the development of severe weather events that cause significantly more damage. If these fatal natural disasters don’t set off alarms in the minds of Republican lawmakers, then nothing will. Unfortunately, by now, progress should already be underway, as 60% of registered voters express concern about climate change, a figure that has risen substantially since 2013. Why is it that the American public understands the threat of climate change while the nation’s most influential government officials do not? On one side, Democrats claim to care about climate change without having the slightest clue of how to adequately confront it. On the other, Republicans have the potential to implement effective solutions but stubbornly refuse to do so. The GOP mistakenly believes that preventing climate change requires overreaching government regulations when in fact business friendly policies present substantial opportunities for progress – such as carbon taxes. Instead of implementing a one-sided tax that penalizes businesses for excessive emissions, let’s establish a revenue neutral tax that incentivizes shifts towards eco-friendly operations. The liberal policy of heavily regulating and penalizing fossil fuel companies has failed for the most part, as hefty fines pose no problem and serve as slaps on the wrist for billion-dollar corporations. In most cases, the violator pays the fine and reverts right back to its former practices. Under this command and control approach, uniform environmental standards are imposed across all industries, and this presents an array of issues, as it’s far more costly to enhance environmental practices in some sectors as opposed to others. For example, a production factory would have to put far more effort into meeting emissions thresholds than a Starbucks franchise. This one-sided tax and uniform standard system also puts small businesses at even greater disadvantages. While industry giants can afford to pay fines for environmental violations, one infraction by a small-scale business would effectively crush its growth potential. A revenue neutral tax, on the other hand, would still penalize carbon emissions, but it would also offer tax cuts in other areas if pollutant discharge levels decline. The potential for tax cuts would motivate businesses to research and explore alternative energy sources and would induce considerable progress in the corporate sector’s commitment to environmental protection. If one company was to successfully implement alternative energy systems and receive tax breaks as a result, its competitors would likely take note and follow suit.
Contrary to popular belief, fewer taxes and higher environmental efficiency can be achieved simultaneously, just not under overbearing regulations. This neutralizing tax would also allow American businesses to be more competitive internationally. While China has begun to devote more attention towards the environment, its level of regulations is microscopic in comparison to the United States’, and this in part contributes to the inability of American businesses to establish prices that remotely contend with those headquartered in China. By offering a combination of penalties and incentives, the US government would create a more leveled playing field for domestic companies to compete internationally while also promoting improvement in environmental quality. The revenue neutral carbon tax is just one of many market-based solutions that effectively generate economic development in addition to confronting the monumental environmental problems we face.
While most Republican politicians ignore the issue of climate change, the rise of several organizations forecast some hope for the future of conservative led environmental policy. Notably, the American Conservation Coalition, (ACC), a newly launched organization, is striving to change the narrative with regards to the strained relationship between conservatives and the environment. This association has a set of goals which includes “bringing conservatives to the table on environmental issues, supporting legislators who are already strong environmental stewards, changing the narrative on college campuses across America, and advocating for free market-based solutions to solve environmental challenges.” As a millennial-led organization, the ACC has the potential to spur a new generation of pro-environment Republicans. Millennials represent the future of politics, and by incorporating market-based environmental policy into its platform, the Republican Party will not only have a broader electoral appeal but it will also have the opportunity to lead the way in confronting climate change.
For Republicans, it’s relatively simple. It’s time to put aside partisan politics and do the right thing. Liberal, big government environmental policies are anti-business and have failed to adequately tackle climate change, an issue that continues to get worse at a rapid pace. This scenario produces a window of opportunity for Republicans, as they have the ability to methodically address environmental issues without absolutely crippling the economy. A market-based approach to climate change is a win for the American public, a win for businesses, and a win for our planet’s future.