We Can't Run From Climate Change. Especially Not the GOP.

We Can't Run From Climate Change. Especially Not the GOP.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
We Can't Run From Climate Change. Especially Not the GOP.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
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“The existential threat of our time.” 

That’s what Nancy Pelosi called climate change last month in her first public remarks as speaker of the House. She was setting the tone for a debate the Democrats will relish forcing on their Republican colleagues between now and the 2020 election. Her caucus even announced the creation of a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to churn out new legislative proposals.

Democrats understand, of course, that they don’t stand a chance of passing liberal climate policy into law while there’s a Republican Senate and White House. But their goal is something else entirely. They want to expose Republicans as ignorant or negligent on climate change to the majority of Americans who say the issue should be a priority for our government.

 I am one of a small but growing group of Republicans who recognize climate change and believe conservatives must find a market-centered approach to solving it. For me, the issue is personal — just like it is for the 59 percent of Americans who say the changing climate is affecting their local communities. The district I represented, stretching from Miami to the Florida Keys, is slowly drowning due to rising sea levels. Though I narrowly lost my race last November, my advocacy for climate issues is one reason I was so competitive in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 16 percentage points.

As a private citizen, I’m continuing to support common-sense ideas to address climate change. It’s why I joined Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy as a distinguished visiting fellow. And it’s why I have recently joined the board of advisers for the Alliance for Market Solutions.

AMS is a Republican-leaning organization that wants to help the GOP understand the simple choice it faces: accept the reality of climate change and come up with our own ideas to address it, or forfeit the issue to Democrats and allow the U.S. economy to continue suffering under job-killing regulations.

What is already a political problem for the party will rapidly become a catastrophe within the next decade. For one, millennials will get older and wield ever-more electoral influence. For another, climate issues will continue to mount and disrupt the lives of more Americans.

Last year saw the second-largest annual increase in CO2 emissions in more than two decades. Do Republicans want to be blamed for everything from rising sea levels to deadly mega-storms to droughts to increasingly intense wildfires, all of which are being triggered by carbon dioxide emissions trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere? Is that our grand political strategy?

The good news is, Republicans don’t have to cede the issue to the Democratic Party. We can get back in the game by crafting our own conservative, pro-growth, market-centered policy solutions to the climate crisis. And I’ve got one in mind.

Last year I proposed the MARKET CHOICE Act, a bill that would have swapped the federal gas and aviation fuel taxes for a tax on carbon pollution. Revenue raised would be invested in American infrastructure including new roads, highways, and bridges as well as expanded public transit systems. Coastal communities would receive the resources they need to adapt to the immediate effects of climate change and low-income Americans would receive dividends to help them cover their electric bills. Millions of dollars would be dedicated to research and development in technologies and innovations that could help us address the climate challenge.

The idea is simple enough. If consumers and companies have a financial incentive to reduce their fossil-fuel use, they will seek out innovative ways to do so without the need for heavy-handed government regulations. This is why placing a price on carbon is a favorite of economists, including Nobel Prize winner William D. Nordhaus and former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who called it “absolutely standard textbook economics.”

Analysis from Columbia University indicated that the legislation I proposed would exceed the emissions goals of the Paris agreement and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. In other words, it would render onerous liberal regulations unnecessary. Maybe that’s why Democrats refused to sign on.

AMS has been advocating for a similar revenue-neutral carbon tax. Under such an idea, any revenue raised from the tax would be offset by lowering other taxes. The carbon tax would ultimately save consumers money by warding off the incalculable long-term cost of climate catastrophe.

Speaker Pelosi may have been dabbling in hyperbole by calling climate change “the existential threat of our time.” No, humans aren’t likely to be wiped out by the climate anytime soon. But the same cannot be said of the Republican Party. The political tide of climate voters is rising, and Republicans need meaningful ideas of their own to avoid getting washed away.

Carlos Curbelo represented Florida's 26th Congressional District from 2015 to 2019.

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