Democrats Want a “Climate Emergency” — Can This Get Republicans Off the Sidelines?
Climate change and Republicans aren’t two words you often see in the same sentence. But that could soon change now that Democrats have control of the House, Senate and White House. They’ve made it clear that climate change is going to be a top priority this year, with President Joe Biden already issuing executive orders on climate change (and more expected), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for President Biden to declare a “climate emergency” recently, and after nearly every Democrat, including the president, has touted the Green New Deal for the past two years.
As both a Republican and someone concerned about climate change, I firmly believe we shouldn’t let Democrats own the issue anymore. An increasing number of voters in the U.S. are worried about climate change and want their elected leaders to do something about it. Recent polls have found that also includes Republicans. In fact, the majority of young Republican voters believe we should try to stop climate change. As we saw in the recent election, the importance of this bloc of voters is only going to increase in the coming years.
Even Republican leaders are acknowledging we need to do something about climate change, especially as the electorate changes. Last year, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a stark warning to fellow Republicans that “younger voters are worried about climate change” and cautioned that “Republicans were risking their viability in elections over the long term by ignoring this critical issue.” He also said, “We need to have an open discussion about what should the party look like 20 years from now, and we should be a little nervous. We have to do something different than we’ve done.”
It’s understandable that for some small government Republicans, any solution may be hard to identify, but climate change is a problem that demands a solution, so our fellow Republicans have to pick one or risk losing at the ballot box. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept what the Democrats are proposing. In fact, their versions of a solution—excessively regulate and spend to try and fix the problem—haven’t worked. Not only have they failed to effectively curb carbon emissions, but they have stymied economic growth and burdened job creators.
Republicans can do better. A truly conservative solution is a pro-growth, market-based proposal that doesn’t grow the size of government, but instead encourages economic growth and true innovation.
For decades, economists have supported the use of price signals to change markets. Today, a growing number of businesses, economists, and even Republicans are seeing the wisdom of using taxes to change behavior, as opposed to subsidies and regulations that provide no certainty and require a team of lawyers and compliance officers to wade through the many rules. A carbon tax, for example, would create a free-market incentive for companies and consumers to reduce CO2 while simultaneously growing the economy and shrinking the size of government.
This can set the stage for something that Republicans have alluded to for many years: bold, necessary pro-growth tax reform. Why risk tax income, savings, and investments when we can use a carbon tax to offset the cost of making business expensing permanent, keep current Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rates permanent, or reduce payroll taxes?
Additionally, a carbon tax addresses a clear market failure. Currently, the environmental cost of climate change is not considered when products and services are produced. These social costs are real, and putting a price on carbon emissions makes those costs more transparent, allowing the market to adjust accordingly.
Democrats continue pursuing bigger, costly climate proposals, and in 2021 might come the most expansive climate change action yet. This should be the year that Republicans get off the sideline, embrace conservative solutions to climate change, or risk Democrats continuing to own the issue in the eyes of American voters.
Alex Flint is executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions.