America's Young Conservatives Want Responsible Climate Action
The US national debt is an issue that has largely disappeared from the public debate over the last several years even as it has continued to grow dramatically. Several other policy issues—most recently, the coronavirus pandemic—have come to the forefront for many good reasons, but the growing national debt remains significant despite its absence from the headlines. Our eye-popping $26.5 trillion national debt could prove to be an enormous problem in the coming years, not just in terms of an approaching fiscal cliff but also as an obstacle to America’s ability to address its next great challenge: climate change.
The US currently spends $1 billion a day on the interest payments for its debt. These debt payments are also non-discretionary spending, meaning the country must make these payments. According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation the interest on the debt will double over the next 10 years. This means that instead of using these resources towards things such as investing in infrastructure, education, or other programs this money will be used to pay the interest on an ever-growing debt. Dealing with this problem is politically difficult because it will require making budget cuts across the board.
If the current global pandemic has shown us anything it is that we must work to plan and be fiscally prepared for crises. This is why climate change and the national debt are so inextricably tied together. Climate change will present several crises both domestically and internationally. More intense hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, or even conflicts over our natural resources all will require the mobilization of resources. As interest payments on the debt becomes an increasingly larger part of the federal budget, then lawmakers will be forced to allocate resources away from dealing with the impacts of climate change. If we do not act now to address climate change, the future costs of its impacts will only increase.
Climate change and the national debt are two issues that are difficult to solve politically. Addressing both issues will require our society to make short-term sacrifices for long term benefits. This makes it difficult for elected officials to work together on coming to solutions to solve either problem, much less both. The long-term consequences of not addressing these problems will almost certainly outweigh the short-term benefits of continuing to kick the can down the road. As these two issues continue to grow in impact they will both have to be taken into account together.
That’s why any solution to address climate change should be as fiscally responsible as it is effective. A revenue neutral carbon pricing mechanism offers the best hope. Groups such as Citizens Climate Lobby and Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends advocate for a dividend-based approach, meaning the funds collected from a steadily rising price on carbon are returned to the American people. The money also could be used for things such as offsetting the cost of a carbon tax on lower income Americans, offsetting the payroll tax, paying down the debt, or modernizing our infrastructure. The point should be to not grow the already large federal government.
This is why market-based solutions for addressing climate change are so important, especially in the context of the increasing national debt. Solutions such as carbon pricing can replace regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, which did not have a large impact on reducing emissions and which many view as inefficient government regulation. Market-based solutions can also replace government regulations and massive government spending on climate solutions without growing the national debt.
The national debt isn’t going to be paid down in the near future any more than climate change is going to miraculously go away. The fiscal restraints each issue could place on the other means we must think about the problems concurrently.
The Republican Party largely stopped talking about the environment and climate change over the last 20 years, only coming back to reclaim legacy on these issues after the effects of climate change became unignorable and under immense pressure from Republicans in my generation. Generation Z, already set to inherit the massive national debt, is also poised to inherit an insurmountable environmental debt. We weren’t around to make the decisions that led to either ballooning problem, but we are engaging now and are looking toward solutions that will lessen both burdens on our heavily mortgaged future.
Jacob Abel is a spokesman for RepublicEn.org and a recent graduate of Seton Hall University.