Right vs. Left on Climate Change

This fall, Dartmouth College Republicans, along with the Dartmouth College Democrats, have planned and launched a series of bi-weekly dinner discussions centered on a variety of pressing topics. The series started out with a discussion on ANTIFA, and whether they fit the definition of a terrorist group. Last week, the dinner discussion considered a conservative solution to climate change, and still to come are dinner discussions on various dynamic topics such as immigration and North Korea.

College Republicans President Abraham Herrera ’18, said of the dinner series “It’s important that the CRs and Dems host this series of dinner discussions so that we can amicably speak about issues that concern each and every one of us and not have to take and offensive or defensive stance much like in a debate. By breaking bread with one another and listening to each side’s concerns and approaches to the issues we don’t see those sitting across from us simply as a label [liberal or conservative] or as a caricature, but rather another American that loves this country and wants to make it a better place. We may disagree on the policy approaches fundamentally, but that shouldn’t bar us from trying to understand another point of view and that’s something we’ve striven to do through these discussions.”

This past Tuesday, Abe and I had the pleasure of unveiling a conservative solution to climate change. Since then College Republicans has issued the following statement:

Tuesday night was an important night for Dartmouth College Republicans as we unveiled a conservative solution to climate change. In the decades past, the debate has been one that is all or none: either climate change is not real, or if it is, the climate lobby’s platform, in its entirety, is incontestable. We feel this debate is a red herring that is intellectually dishonest, mischaracterizing possible alternatives, and falsely dichotomizing the issue. Simply put, it is logically invalid. For a science that is supposedly “settled” environmental studies offer concerningly little capability in predicting the future. Cost-benefit analyses of carbon emissions reductions are unreliable and vary heavily depending you ask.

Take the most basic question you can ask: what are the long term environmental implications of maintaining our emissions rates? You will find 3 reasonable answers to this question, and given the speculative nature of environmental science, we believe our environmental policy should be conditional based on which of these cases rings most true:

First: that climate change poses no risk that we cannot or will not be able to manage. If this is true – and in the short term, it has been – then there is no point in discouraging emissions in any way, as they provide affordable energy to the greatest number of people.

Second: that with current technology, climate change’s effects are already irreversible. The operative qualifier here, though, is with current technology. In this doomsday scenario, our only chance at survival is to invent our way out of our problems. This would be concerning, but still the words of one of America’s most glorious scientists, Albert Einstein, ring as true as ever: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this case we must prioritize invention, which is inextricably linked to growth. Sacrificing growth for environmental regulations would be akin to tying a hand behind our back, as it would only decrease our chances of finding moonshot technology.

The third scenario is perhaps most interesting: we call it the “Goldilocks Scenario.” This states that climate change is not so insignificant that we need not worry about it, nor so overwhelming that we must throw a Hail Mary, but that with enough work we can successfully stop its effects. This seems to be the mainstream belief among actors on the left and we do not believe it to be inherently unreasonable. But we heed caution not to fall for the old logical trap; as the saying goes, we need to do something, and this is something, so we should do it.

In attempting to do something, environmental policy has disposed of any semblance of cost-benefit analysis to presume that any reduction in emissions is worth any cost, a ludicrous assumption. It is in this light that we present a solution to the Goldilocks Scenario: revenue-neutral carbon taxes contingent on environmental deregulation.

To break the plan down into its components:

  • Carbon taxes would be levied on raw materials and would gradually increase over time.
  • The tax would act as an incentive to substitute fossil fuels for renewable energies such as nuclear power. Since the taxes would have a negative income effect, they should be offset by a compensatory income tax credit.
  • Thirdly, as we are living in an open economy, a border adjustment tax would be necessary to maintain American competitiveness and encourage other nations to join our progress.

Lastly, as the good College Republicans we are, we would be remiss if we did not advocate deregulation. It is worth repeating ad nauseam that the cost of compliance with regulation is 2 trillion dollars, or roughly 10% of our GDP. We must take advantage of any opportunity to cut red tape and environmental regulations in particular offer a unique chance to rollback some of businesses’ most suffocating regulations, since many of them will be moot now that the private cost of emissions will better reflect the social costs.

A plan nearly identical to this, though differing in distribution mechanisms, was proposed by the Climate Leadership Council and has since been endorsed by the likes of Hank Paulson, Greg Mankiw, Michael Bloomberg, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and even large oil corporations. While we disagree with some subtleties of the Climate Leadership Council’s plan, in particular their disbursement of dividends, which we see as disincentive to work, rather than our proposed tax cuts, we believe the plan is a step in the right direction of reframing the debate on climate change.

The proposal initially drew the College Democrats’ skeptical criticism, which we have grown to know and love; however, by the end of an open Q&A session, we were amazed by the thoughtfulness and consideration both sides had given to the proposal. With similar intellectual contributions from both sides, the next two dinner discussions this term will surely prove to be equally successful, serving to truly open the doors to more productive discourse between the right and left on campus.