We Cannot Solve Climate Change Without Bipartisanship
Last week, Americans across political parties celebrated and recommitted to environmental stewardship with renewed spirit. Absent from much of the conversation, however, was clarity on what solving climate change will actually require: policy solutions that can win and sustain bipartisan support.
Just consider the following: between now and 2050, the US will be led by at least four presidents and 15 different Congresses. Τo meet the decades-long climate challenge, our country will have to introduce and sustain solutions that can deliver on ambitious decarbonization goals—policies that can pass and last across the inevitable swings in political administrations.
President Obama’s climate approach highlights the weakness of efforts that hinge on one party maintaining control of the executive branch. His Clean Power Plan was well-intended but came to life with strokes of the executive pen. Lacking bipartisan support, this regulatory approach was promptly dismantled by the next administration.
Executive action is also prone to legal and bureaucratic delay. It often takes years for regulations to take effect due to the complicated rule-writing process and the risk of court challenges. This only fuels uncertainty for businesses who need clarity about the future in order to innovate the next generation of clean technologies. With the urgency to address the climate challenge, America should not bet on such a tenuous approach.
Luckily, history points to a winning formula for environmental progress. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush marshalled bipartisan support to tackle acid rain, a vexing environmental problem of the day. Today, this effort is considered one of the most significant environmental achievements in U.S. history.
The ingredients of success? Republican leadership, bipartisan support, and a market-based approach. With this, President Bush’s initiative slashed the pollutants causing acid rain ahead of schedule and under budget. We’ve done this before, and we can do it again.
Those skeptical that the parties can come together on climate may be interested to know about the growing momentum toward environmental bipartisanship in Congress. Senators Braun (R-IN) and Coons (D-DE) have united 14 senators in the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is committed to setting aside party divisions and advancing commonsense solutions.
Meanwhile, the historic Energy Act of 2020, shepherded by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) and Senators Manchin (D-WV), garnered overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. Other recent proposals, like the Growing Climate Solutions Act and The Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act, have also earned bipartisan support. These efforts deserve our applause, as they lay the foundation for sustained climate progress.
The Biden administration hopes to pursue policies that stick. In order to appeal to both parties, President Biden should bypass the divisive regulatory process and instead steer toward market-based solutions, which can generate the broad support needed to stand the test of time.
The carbon dividends plan is one such approach that--through pricing emissions--can achieve dramatic environmental impact. For this reason, it has attracted the support of environmentalists, businesses, and thought leaders across the political spectrum. Even young people have gravitated toward this approach.
Earlier this academic year, over 400 student government presidents—representing all 50 states and more than 4 million students—signed a joint-statement in support of the carbon dividends framework. The largest ever public declaration of student government leaders, it united Republicans and Democrats alike.
Bipartisanship takes extra work, but it is also what addressing climate change requires. As we build toward the next Earth Day and the many more to come, we must remember America’s climate response is a relay race. It demands hustle but also smooth baton-passing from one political administration to the next. Our race against time is one we can win, but only if we pave the pathways critical for long-term coordination.
George Gemelas is the Executive Vice President of Students for Carbon Dividends and a graduate student at the Yale School of the Environment.