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Don’t laugh, we’re closer to a bipartisan solution on climate change than you realize

Don’t laugh, we’re closer to a bipartisan solution on climate change than you realize
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Ask a typical person concerned about global warming if they think Congress will enact a bipartisan solution to climate change, and the response is likely to be a derisive laugh.

For millions of Americans who watch cable news shows or read the papers, such cynicism is easy to come by. Democrats and Republicans can barely get together on keeping the government from shutting down. How in the world could they ever come together on an issue as politically divisive as climate change? 

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Even before the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which gave big-monied interests the power to bend national policy to their will on issues like climate change, the divide between the parties was widening — Democrats seeing climate change as an issue needing to be addressed; Republicans questioning the urgency and need for action and whether a problem existed at all.

 

But in the past decade, the findings and predictions of climate scientists have been validated by real-world evidence: ice vanishing from poles and glaciers, sea levels rising, storms and wildfires becoming more destructive, and temperatures moving inexorably in one direction — up. 

In the face of such evidence, many Republicans have started to accept the reality that climate change is happening and that something should be done about it.

Until a few years ago, however, few of those Republicans were sitting members of Congress. That’s because those special interests unleashed by Citizens United had the power to punish — and unseat — Republicans who dared to suggest that we should curtail carbon pollution, the primary cause of climate change. Unless something happened to change that dynamic, little progress could be expected.

But something has indeed happened. Something called democracy.

In cities and small towns across the country, citizens worried about the future world their grandchildren will inherit started sharing those concerns with federal lawmakers. They met with them face-to-face and wrote to them. They published letters to the editor and opinion pieces calling for action. They mobilized support in their communities for a national climate policy. 

And when they met with Republicans, those citizens did something totally unexpected: They thanked them. It might not have been for something they did about climate change, but it was something they genuinely appreciated, and it was an acknowledgement that those who represent us have a difficult, if not thankless job. That simple gesture opened the door to meaningful conversations, discussions that led more than a few Republicans to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House. That caucus now has 78 members, 39 of them Republicans. 

Let that sink in for a moment. A little over two years ago, you could count on one hand the number of Republicans in the House who publicly acknowledged that human-caused climate change is occurring and that Congress needs to come up with solutions. There are currently 39 who share that conviction, and they’re willing to talk to colleagues across the aisle about it.

Now that we have Republicans and Democrats talking to one another about one of the great challenges our civilization faces, where does that conversation go? What is the solution that finds common ground between two parties that have fundamental differences about the role of government? 

Given that Republicans are the party of less government, it’s safe to assume that additional regulation falls outside the Venn diagram sweet spot of common ground. The solution most likely to find favor in both camps has to be market-based and revenue-neutral, and a fee on carbon with proceeds returned to households meets those requirements. Such a fee will provide the economic incentive to speed the transition to clean energy and reduce carbon emissions.

A study from Regional Economic Models, Inc., examined such an approach with a fee on the carbon dioxide content of fuels that increases each year by $10 per ton. The REMI study concluded that after 20 years, emissions would drop 50 percent below 1990 levels and that 2.8 million jobs would be added, dispelling the notion that any price on carbon would be bad for the economy.

Conservative voices like George Shultz and James Baker at the Climate Leadership Council and Jerry Taylor at the libertarian think tank Niskanen Center endorse this approach, which also enjoys support from young Republicans concerned about climate change. As Alex Posner from Students for Carbon Dividends told Fox News, “Instead of the government picking winners and losers, we want to hand the ball over to American entrepreneurs and innovators so they can lead the way. This is a solution that shrinks the size of government and yields greater emissions reductions at the same time.”

On June 12, 1,200 citizens from around our nation, many of them the people who convinced Republicans to join the Climate Solutions Caucus, will be on Capitol Hill with a mission to narrow the political divide on climate change. Based on past achievements, I’m confident they will succeed, because I’m confident our democracy will eventually overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of doing the right thing.

A bipartisan solution to climate change? We’re not laughing. We’re smiling. 

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.