As a staunch Democrat, I believe President Biden’s plan for addressing climate change is the right path forward. Republicans often argue, however, that Washington should do less and people should do more to take personal responsibility instead. Let’s do both.
Climate change doesn’t just threaten the planet; it is putting people at risk. The economy that we all rely on could be disrupted permanently by climate change in a way that is remarkably similar to the pandemic, except that it cannot be resolve in a year or two or with just a few trillion dollars.
So, we need to be working at every possible level. The climate activists I know and love take deep personal responsibility for the environment, installing solar, eating less meat, driving cars that plug in and eschewing plastic — even as they advocate for climate-friendly policies at all levels of government.
To avoid cataclysmic impact on the economy, perhaps as early as this decade, we all must do our part. That requires Republican-style personal responsibility as modeled by my climate activist friends. No one should need a tax incentive to add solar panels or buy an electric vehicle. Even without the incentives, solar panels deliver a guaranteed financial return — even if it is modest.
How much money are you earning on your savings account? Electric vehicles still cost a bit more (for now) to buy than roughly comparable traditional vehicles, but they offer huge advantages, including lower lifetime operating costs and less air pollution.
We should be taking action to reduce our carbon footprint because our livelihood is at risk if we don’t. Utah is in the middle of the worst drought it has faced since we’ve kept good records; the Great Salt Lake is evaporating before our eyes. Snowpack is down and our reservoirs are at an all-time low. Water problems are already having economic impacts on ranchers and farmers in our communities and the problems are at least partially attributable to climate change.
Even though Republicans are right that we should take personal responsibility for reversing climate change and act accordingly, the reality is that without rules and incentives encouraging good choices and discouraging bad ones, too many of us are doing too little.
Hence the need for America and the state of Utah to both enact rules and provide incentives for actions that will mitigate climate change. The list of actions in the Biden climate plan is long and I support the plan enthusiastically. Getting the Biden plan passed will be difficult.
There is one action, however, that we can do quickly that won’t increase the federal deficit and will actually provide about 75 percent of families with additional cash. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act already introduced in Congress will put a price on carbon, making all our use of polluting fossil fuels a bit more expensive, and will then return the money to citizens as a dividend. It’s like getting paid to decarbonize.
Here’s the best thing about the carbon fee and dividend approach: it reinforces personal responsibility but doesn’t force anyone to change. Those who can’t afford to reduce their carbon footprint won’t. The financial incentive to do so, however, will increase over time as clean energy continues to get cheaper and eventually will likely create the incentive for people and corporations to conclude they can’t afford not to do the green thing.
Republicans may never support the full Biden climate agenda, but they can — they must — support a carbon fee and dividend approach that reinforces personal responsibility.
Devin Thorpe ran for Congress in 2020 in Utah as a Democrat; previously, he was a regular Forbes contributor and is a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.