Recently, Republicans received some favorable climate-related coverage. Utah’s 3rd District Congressman John Curtis announced the formation of a Conservative Climate Caucus. It came with a roster of roughly 60 Congresspeople, none of them particularly well known names. While they are light on content, they have sufficient info on their site to make a few early assessments. It’s possible that their actual actions will pleasantly surprise me, but the start is inauspicious.
First, though, it’s worth looking at some prior art in conservative climate actions.
There have been a few Republicans at the climate change table in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus for years, and they include big names like Romney, Murkowski, Graham, Rubio, and Gaetz, all of whom are missing from the new Caucus (although it’s easy to understand why Gaetz wasn’t invited). And until the 2018 midterms, they were actually fully bi-partisan as their policy, with newcomers required to join in matched pairs.
Their solution is a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend, along with reduced regulation. It’s a good policy, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough and it would have needed to start in 1990. We need governments to make tough choices, we need carrots to draw first-movers, and we need sticks to beat recalcitrant industries with. A carbon fee that’s low and capped at a too-low rate is exactly one policy lever. The carbon fee and dividend is bog-standard conservative economic policy, outside of Libertarian ideologues. Place a price on negative externalities and let the market take care of the rest.
The Climate Leadership Council is another legacy group focused on climate action. It was founded by senior Republican luminaries including former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz, and Rob Walton, former Chairman of Walmart. Its focus is a revenue-neutral climate fee and dividend as well, along with a side helping of deregulation. Since its very conservative founding, it’s branched out to be a bi-partisan effort as well, and gained approval of Nobel Laureates in economics and corporate sponsorship. That corporate involvement is telling, by the way. There are 8 big fossil fuel-oriented emitters in the set, all of which have been doing quite well at greenwashing and notably less well at actually eliminating fossil fuels. When BHP, ExxonMobil, and BP are bellying up to the bar, the reasonable question of greenwashing arises. But the policies include a border carbon adjustment as well, and there are worse policy sets. They would start their fee at $40 per ton per the report and increase it above inflation until it hit $80, which is too low, but still better than nothing.
So many conservative policy strategists and economists favor carbon taxes. But watch what happens when sensible administrations implement this conservative Pigovian tax:
- In Australia, center-left Labor brought a carbon tax in. The right-wing Liberals — with the support of the Oz version of the Heritage Foundation and coal baron money — derided it utterly, fought an election on it, and when they won, canceled it.
- In Canada, the centrist Liberals brought in a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend to tax payers. The increasingly right-wing Conservatives derided it, fought two elections against it, thankfully losing both, and in a recent policy convention, refused to include climate change and action in their policies.
It’s like the Affordable Care Act, a Republican-created and tested policy that the conservative Obama Administration brought in. The Republicans immediately derided it as ObamaCare and fought tooth and nail against it for years. Consistency and so-called conservative parties like the Republicans don’t go hand in hand anymore.
So the new Republican-only Conservative Climate Caucus exists in a context. It doesn’t have big names associated with it. It’s inherently partisan. It’s entered a place where two pre-existing, well structured, well thought-through actually conservative caucuses and political action groups with senior Republican engagement already exist. And it doesn’t have a coherent policy it stands behind.
But it does have a set of ‘beliefs’, and they’ve already tipped their hand about what they are really all about. Let’s look at what they believe, point by point.
“The climate is changing, and decades of a global industrial era that has brought prosperity to the world has also contributed to that change.”
“Contributed to.” Right. The science is clear that we would be experiencing very slow cooling in a stable climate, but instead are seeing radically rapid heating, over 100 times faster than the heating which melted the continental glaciers 20-25 thousand years ago.
So yes, this is a belief. It’s not the reality. But that’s also not a policy indicator, so we can somewhat ignore it.
“Private sector innovation, American resources, and R&D investment have resulted in lower emissions and affordable energy, placing the United States as the global leader in reducing emissions.”
“Global leader.” Right. Germany is off 40% in GHG emissions since 1990. US emissions are about the same as they were in 1990, after having risen through 2010 or so. You have to cherrypick your timeframes to pretend the US is a global leader in emissions reduction when its per capita emissions are still among the highest in the world and its historical emissions are a full 25% of the global historical total.
This is a point of faith on the right. They really seem to believe this is true. So yes, more unsupported belief, not reality. And also not policy, although it’s a pointer to policy.
“Climate change is a global issue and China is the greatest immediate obstacle to reducing world emissions. Solutions should reduce global emissions and not just be “feel good” policies.”
China is not the greatest immediate obstacle in the real world. It is on track to hitting its (admittedly weak) Paris Agreement targets nine years early. It built as much wind and solar in 2020 as the rest of the world combined, 72 GW of wind and 48 GW of solar. It has 38,000 km of high-speed electrified passenger rail in operation, enough to circle the equator. It has well over 400,000 electric buses on the roads of its cities when no other country has 1,000 in operation. It buys 50% of all electric vehicles. It builds virtually all of the solar panels used globally. Chinese firms are two of the top five global wind turbine manufacturers.
China remained signatory to the Paris Agreement and acted when Republicans took the US out of the Agreement and regressed. For the past four years, the largest single obstacle to climate action was the United States. This is Sinophobic posturing, and indicative of policy that will not be useful. It sells well, and Biden does it too, but it remains harmful, finger-pointing nonsense.
And yet again, not policy, just a pointer to where policy might go.
“Practical and exportable answers can be found in innovation embraced by the free market. Americans and the rest of the world want access to cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy.”
“Innovation” is a right-wing mantra as well. What it translates to is research funding, funding for the fossil fuel industries for failed carbon capture technologies, and yet more billions for nuclear energy. Innovation has already been embraced by the free market. It’s called wind and solar power. And it’s delivering cheaper, reliable, and actually clean — not ‘cleaner’ — energy globally today.
Germany and Denmark are running well over 40% on renewable electricity and their grid reliability metrics are vastly better than the US’. The average German and Dane see less than 15 minutes of power interruptions annually.
No one in the US sees anything approaching that level of reliability.
But this suggests policies. They extrapolate to:
These are no climate-friendly policies. These are fossil fuel industry friendly policies.
“With innovative technologies, fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution.”
No, they won’t. This is #hopium from the fossil fuel industry, the Republican’s primary sponsors. The fossil fuel industry has to dwindle to a petrochemicals industry providing industrial feedstocks, perhaps 20% of a barrel, probably less.
This is indicative of energy and climate policies which are not about the greatest good for the greatest number, but the greatest good for the smallest number, specifically fossil fuel oligarchs like the Kochs.
“Reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices.”
Eliminating emissions is the goal, and some energy choices do not make that at all possible. Physics makes that very clear. More meat for the fossil fuel industry at the expense of the climate here.
So what this all means is that if — big if — Republicans actually come up with a climate policy at the federal level based on the new Caucus, it will be pretty much what Trump did.
- Point fingers at other countries
- Give lots of money and love to the fossil fuel industry
- Pretend that the US is a leader, as opposed to a laggard
There is no intersection visible between the sane, empirically based policies of the Democratic Party, which is actually focused on the greatest good for the greatest number, and the policies of the Republican Party at this point.
Organize now to keep them out of power in 2022 and 2024.