Over the past decade, as climate change has been driving increasingly extreme weather around the globe, the political debate in Washington has also grown more extreme.
Republicans, in general, have moved further from the scientific consensus and in their opposition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But a growing number of conservatives are moving back in the opposite direction, embracing the science of climate change and proposing free-market solutions.
Since President Trump took office, we’ve seen multiple attempts to move forward with a carbon tax, or “carbon pricing” as some prefer to call it.
Most recently, Florida Representative Carlos Curbelo introduced legislation that would replace the existing gas tax with a more wide-reaching carbon tax.
“We work on the Hill and what we’ve found is that, on the House side, there are 40 or 50 Republicans who are deeply uncomfortable with the party’s position of denying climate change is real or that any government response is required,” said Jerry Taylor, the president of the Niskanen Center, a think tank that was deeply involved in that carbon tax bill.
The Niskanen Center was founded in 2014 largely by ex-patriots from the libertarian world — the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, the Mercatus Center, and Charles Koch Institute, Taylor said.
“Though we don’t really think of ourselves as libertarians classically understood,” he said.
For a time, Taylor was a climate change skeptic. He knew climate change was happening, but he thought the effects would be modest and the cost of doing something dramatic would be greater than the cost of doing nothing.
His opinion changed.
“If you want to be involved in the climate debate you have to argue with the best the other side has to offer,” he said.
Every credentialed economist he spoke to supported carbon pricing and aggressive action on climate change.
“When you can’t find a single academic to support your point of view, that’s a pretty good wake-up call,” he said.
Taylor said it is better to let the market decide, rather than the government, which clean energy sources should replace fossil fuels. That means assigning the real cost of carbon pollution and letting the low-carbon alternatives compete.
“The most efficient and lowest-cost responses will be produced by the market,” he said.
Taylor said there is a slow but steady move toward climate action among GOP Congressmen, especially ones on the coast.
“There’s no way that you can represent, say, Miami-Dade, as Congressman Curbelo does, and deny what is happening all around you,” he said.
Jerry Taylor will be speaking at the Woods Hole Research Center on Aug. 11, 2018.