Republicans are losing on climate issues. We can change that.
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The midterm elections reinforced the growing consensus among pollsters that climate change is increasingly important to America’s swing voters; the voters who decide who wins and who loses in close races. Data shows that a majority of millennials, independents, and younger Republicans want their elected leaders to do something to stem environmental damage. And with most Americans now saying climate change impacts their local communities, it’s easy to see why.

The numbers and the trend should worry conservatives. It’s likely that we will struggle to remain viable in key districts and states if we continue to forfeit climate voters to the left. And now, with the looming Democratic majority in the House signaling their intention to make the issue a priority, it’s clear that conservatives won’t have the option to avoid the debate.


In this new landscape, Republicans are left with a choice: we can either continue to allow the Democrats’ monopoly on climate policy to go unchallenged, ensuring Republicans will be caricatured as environmental obstructionists in future elections, or we can make a play to seize control of the debate by offering our own conservative ideas.

The good news is, the left’s climate positions—which grow more extreme and economically punitive by the day—should be easy for Republicans to beat, as long as we offer a credible alternative. It may surprise some to hear, but it is in fact possible to have a climate policy that is both environmentally and economically friendly. In fact, a pro-growth, market-based solution already exists, and it’s rightly gaining steam in some conservative circles.

It’s called the revenue-neutral carbon tax—and it is now Republicans’ best hope to be responsible stewards of our environment and our economy.

Currently, American companies have no economic incentive to reduce harmful CO2 emissions. A revenue-neutral tax on carbon pollution would change that by creating a market for low carbon and energy efficient technologies. Economists have long identified the revenue-neutral carbon tax as a cost-effective alternative to the left’s regulatory pressures. Consider the work of recent Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus, who established that a carbon tax would be the cheapest and most efficient way to address the world’s climate concerns.

Politically, this policy is desirable for conservatives for a number of reasons. For one, it’s revenue-neutral, meaning that with the money government receives taxing carbon pollution, it could cut other, more harmful taxes an equal amount. Second, it would negate the need for and enable the repeal of a host of carbon regulations that currently inhibit economic growth.

Further, the carbon tax would give serious policy heft to Republicans’ steadily increasing willingness to acknowledge the changing climate—an encouraging sign in its own right. The GOP membership of the Climate Solutions Caucus on Capitol Hill has been growing in recent years. Despite some members losing reelection, members haven’t performed any worse politically than the rest of their colleagues, lending further evidence to the notion that the tide is turning in the party on this issue. To sustain this progress, it’s important for Republicans to have substantive policy proposals to match the changing politics of climate.

Finally, this policy would make for a powerful chess move against the new Democratic House majority. Democrats say they want progress on climate change, so why not test them while independent voters are watching? If Democrats turn down a solution as reasonable as the revenue-neutral carbon tax, then Republicans can seize the climate high ground in the next election. Alternatively, if they agree, conservatives will have a valuable achievement with which to silence criticisms going forward.

With control of the Senate, it’s true that Republicans will still have the power—for now—to stonewall Democrats on climate issues. But the long-term trends, both of the climate and politics makes getting ahead of this issue the smart play.

Put simply, the revenue-neutral carbon tax is a victory waiting to happen for conservatives. We should move quickly to claim it.

Alex Flint is executive director of Alliance for Market Solutions.