Rep. John Curtis wants praise for his recognition of the reality, and extreme danger, of climate change. Rather, he deserves scorn and derision for his abject failure to take bold action to combat it.
Human frailties include denial and stupidity, and that is especially true of Republicans with regard to climate change. Even Curtis himself acknowledges the denial by most Republicans.
Curtis is especially deserving of criticism for his lack of courage to take the decisive and, yes, politically risky, steps to begin tangible action against climate change. As a powerful, elected Republican who sees the light, his lack of fortitude is especially tragic.
The metaphor that comes to mind is a group of religious zealots who believe their deity will suddenly enable them to fly if they jump off a cliff — except one of the zealots knows there will be no deity rescue, and a tragedy looms, but does nothing to stave off the disaster. Curtis knows strong action is needed, but all he is providing is happy talk about innovation and adapting to climate change’s impact.
Curtis is also a believer in market forces and the power of incentives. He is correct about the strength and effectiveness of market forces.
Let’s connect the dots: Carbon is bad because its causes climate change. Climate change has huge adverse costs for all of humanity. When we burn coal and oil for power, the resulting carbon causes expensive and deadly harm, but the cost of that carbon damage is not included in the cost of the fuel we burn.
The true cost of a gallon of gas is not just the cost to extract, refine and transport the gasoline, i.e., the price we pay at the pump. Embedded in that gasoline is the cost to our environment, and our well-being, of burning that gas. But we, as consumers, currently aren’t being charged for the full cost of that gasoline.
Is there a Republican originated, market-oriented solution to this? Well, it turns out there is. It’s called “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its authors include Reagan-era stalwarts George Shultz and James Baker. It says if we tax carbon, to take into account its true cost, thereby making it more expensive, market forces will respond and there will be less carbon spewed into our air and water. It’s simply Economics 101.
This policy paper goes on to propose that all the money generated from the carbon tax be distributed to all Americans as a dividend. So Curtis and his colleagues can’t complain that this is a backdoor plan to expand government. Allowing market forces to figure out the best way to reduce carbon emissions is far superior to blunt-force regulations.
In my view, the carbon tax should be high, because action is urgently needed. And the dividends to all Americans from the carbon tax collections might even provide a much-needed mechanism to reduce economic inequality.
So why isn’t Curtis advocating, at the top of his lungs, The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends? I believe there is only one answer: The proposal includes the "T" word, taxes.
It doesn’t seem to matter to most Republicans that a carbon tax will provide incentives to reduce climate change and possibly reduce inequality. It’s still a tax, and to the Republican mind, all taxes are bad. I believe Curtis fears a primary challenge on the right, and the loss of his seat in Congress, if he were to advocate a carbon tax. Curtis himself acknowledges that if he even mentions climate change, his wife receives frantic calls from callers upset that Curtis is now in league with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
But this is the time to be bold, even at personal political risk. With all of the storms, droughts, floods, famines and plagues the world is currently experiencing, it’s time to conclude that one’s personal political prospects don’t outweigh telling hard truths and making a best effort to start the process to save our planet.
Eric Rumple lives in Sandy. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago and is the author of the novel “Forgive Our Debts."