A GOP Blueprint for Fighting Global Warming

July 6th, 2009 at 7:18 pm | 8 Comments |

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The debate over the Waxman-Markey bill has left me troubled. Don’t get me wrong, site it is a terribly flawed piece of legislation that should not become law. But I think that reflexive opposition to global warming policies puts Republicans on the wrong side of this issue. I think there are three key aspects to rethinking the opposition.

Conservative Principles Favor Action. Conservatives favor preserving freedom and opportunity for the generations to follow. That is precisely why they should support an effective response to global warming. By now it is obvious that the scientific community has not – and will not soon – reach a unanimous verdict on the scope of human contribution to concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and global warning. But the majority of experts do believe that GHG emissions are a threat and have spelled out the dire consequences. So the choice is clear. Do nothing and wait to find out if (a) the minority of scientists were right, here or (b) a climate disaster ensues. Or, do something effective and (a) waste valuable technologies, investments, and resources that could have been devoted to another purpose, or (b) preserve the climate and freedoms for our descendents.

The first point is that both doing nothing and doing something could be costly. There really is no freebie, and Democrats should be fairly criticized for pretending the contrary. (The hallmark of this misrepresentation is “green jobs” – see more below.) The second point is that doing nothing has the potential to be more costly, so the balance of risks says to do something. In the end, it comes down to paying a price to raise the odds of a better future for our children, nation, and globe.

Aren’t conservatives the breed most dedicated to fighting the costly fights and taking the difficult stands to achieve this goal?

Yes, It Is A Tax. Let’s be clear about a few analytics. A cap-and-trade mechanism is a tax. Period. Indeed, on a blackboard a carbon tax (GHG tax) and a cap-and-trade policy are identical because there is always a tax large enough to generate the same emissions as the cap imposes. And if you impose the cap, the price of an emission permit will match the amount of the equivalent carbon tax.

So if you want to do something about GHG emissions, it will involve a tax. But, as noted above, that is the price of preserving freedom and opportunity. The main issue is which way to go: cap-and-trade or carbon tax.

A bad way to decide is to look at the horrific details embedded in Waxman-Markey and dream of a blackboard-simple carbon tax. No carbon tax will ever get through the House Committee on Ways and Means, pass the Senate Finance Committee and be signed by the President and remain simple. The same pressures of sectoral lobbyists will be brought to bear. The same administrative difficulties will apply to determining the carbon content to be taxed. The same issues will arise in measuring emissions and reductions.

A better way is to realize that an effective global warming policy will be global in scope, decades-long in ambitions, and intricate in its implementation. It will be an undertaking comparable to the postwar development of the international trading rules under the GATT and WTO. It will span time-scales comparable to Social Security. And it will be very complicated to implement.

In light of this, the key to picking between the cap-and-trade and a carbon tax hinges on a variety of subtle issues. What approach can garner the broadest support? Which is easiest to coordinate with other countries? There is no obvious answer to these issues, but certainly cap-and-trade is one possibility. The current Republican attack on cap-and-trade as “cap-and-tax” takes both the sensible approaches off the table.

Economic Flexibility is the Hallmark of Market Solutions. This is where the Democrats get it all wrong. You don’t need a cap-and-trade and dictates on fuel mixes to electricity generation and mandates on the carbon content of fuels and building standards and massive weatherization programs and whatever other big-government initiative you can think of. All you need is a strong, permanent market signal that says reducing GHG emissions is lucrative and the rest will take care of itself. Indeed, the massive layers of regulation added to a cap-and-trade get in the way of the ability to innovate that will be central to success.

It is also were Republicans get it wrong. Given a clear price signal, there is no reason to suspect the economy’s ability to reshape itself to be consistent with this goal. Suppose in 1950 a good, conservative economist had been asked what the economy would look like at the start of the 21st century. It would have been impossible to anticipate the innovations in technology, advances in manufacturing productivity, and rise in services that have transpired in the interim. There should be no reason to suspect the ability of a flexible, market-driven economy to shift gradually to a lower-carbon footprint.

“Gradually” is also the key. From a climate perspective, what matters is the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. It makes very little difference whether the GHG emission occurs this year or five years from now. Accordingly, there is no reason to have emissions reduction targets that are so aggressive in the near term as to inflict great economic harm. Instead, the policy should signal clearly that such reductions will have to take place in the decades to come and provide a strong incentive to innovate and reduce the cost of the shift.

The Bottom Line. I think that the current Republican attacks on global warming policies are misplaced. Addressing global warming is entirely consistent with conservative principles, and the cap-and-trade policy approach is one of two broad strategies. Generic attacks labeling it a “cap-and-tax” take both options off the table. A better strategy would be to focus on the (myriad) flaws in the Waxman-Markey bill itself.

Recent Posts by Douglas Holtz-Eakin

8 Comments so far ↓

  • barker13

    Same old tired tripe.

    Funny, the “new” NM sounds just like the “old” NM when it comes to tone and topics.

    “…dire consequences…”

    Got it. (*YAWN*)

    “…climate disaster…”

    Yes, yes… my village of Harriman, NY will either be a desert 20 years from now or under water – one or the other. Got it. (*SNORT*)

    “…preserve the climate…”

    Don’t worry, Dougie baby, I’ve notified the local middle school authorities… at this very moment they’re working on a device that will allow me to control the energy of the Sun! Just be patient!!!

    “…effective global warming policy will be global in scope…”

    (*FLIPPING OPEN MY COMMUNICATOR*) Lt. Uhura… this is Captain Bill… get me Starfleet Command – stat!

    Doug. Enough. (*SIGH*)


  • ottovbvs

    Douglas you lose sight of the fact that the GOP has made itself a prisoner of the doctrine that there is no such thing as global warming. You’ve inculcated this belief into the acolytes like Barking for 25 years and as his posts so eloquently demonstrate he now believes it completely and regards as an apostate and traitor anyone who would suggest otherwise, including fully paid up Republicans like you. You can’t just wander off the reservation when it suits you even when most of the scientific community has come around to the view this is a huge global problem and public opinion by and large supports them. Some ritual denunciations of the cap and trade bill just isn’t going to cut it. The Republican party told Barking and others there was no elephant in the room, he’s not going to let you change your story now.

  • barker13

    I’m actually glad Otto wrote what he did. I’ll use Otto’s post as an instruction tool! (*SMILE*)

    First… we all realize that Otto is… hmm… approximately 75% crackers. His posts are predicatively partisan and while he’s capable of reasoned debate, he’s more snark than substance. Nevertheless…


    “…the doctrine that there is no such thing as global warming.”

    (*SIGH*) Once again, there seems to be general scientific agreement that roughly speaking, we’re in a period of global warming. That said, it’s also my understanding that it’s been established that for the last 10 years or so within this “warming trend” there’s been a COOLING period; furthermore, this cooling period is expected by many climate experts to continue through 2030, perhaps 2040.

    Now… aside from that… few educated people believe that man’s activity has NO impact on the environment; rather, what I and other reasonable people believe is that man’s impact is minimal as compared to “natural” occurrences – solar activity being perhaps the Big Khahuna… undersea activity, below and above sea volcanic activity, ocean currents, and so on and so forth.

    In plan English, if global warming is happening… folks like me don’t believe there’s much man can do to stop it – and I’m talking even if there was top down world government with dictatorial powers to simply institute worldwide policies.


    “…he now believes it completely and regards as an apostate and traitor anyone who would suggest otherwise…”

    No. I think folks like Sinz have personified a fear of global warming into a “religious like belief” impervious to reason. In other words, Otto… in reference to your charge… “I know you are, but what am I…?!”

    (Get it…??? I’m saying that it’s the “environmentalists” (in Sinz mode) who are guilty of what they accuse folks like me of representing – namely, closed-minded intolerance.)


    “…most of the scientific community has come around to the view this is a huge global problem and public opinion by and large supports them.”

    We’ve been over this before. (*YAWN*) (*SIGH*) Hundreds of scientists have publicly stated their disagreement with the “faith” of the “Church of Algore.” I and others have posted links. Search engines are available to all who are interested in examining all sides of the debate. And as to public perceptions… (*HUGE FRIGG’N GRIN*)… if anything, the debate seems to be moving in “our” direction – the direction of skepticism, doubt, and a “slow down, let’s think this through” attitude which takes cost/benefit into the heart of the debate.

    * Doug. See…??? The tact taken by the Otto’s and Sinz’s of the world is exactly the tact that YOU don’t want to take. Mischaracterizing others’ views in order to negate them just doesn’t work when I and others are free to tell the truth about our views.



  • ottovbvs

    barker13 // Jul 7, 2009 at 4:56 pm
    ” Now… aside from that… few educated people believe that man’s activity has NO impact on the environment; rather, what I and other reasonable people believe is that man’s impact is minimal ”

    …….The “reasonable people” are those like Barking who as anyone can tell from his postings is entirely reasonable, and a relative handful of scientists many of whom are in the pay of the energy industries (Barking I spent 25 years in the oil business!). The vast majority of the scientific community think otherwise. The fact that people like Holtz Eakins have woken up is a measure of the extent to which the global warming denial crowd are losing the debate. Barking just hasn’t got the memo yet….he probably never will.

  • sinz54

    David Frum: I have a suggestion:

    Before trying to convince conservatives that global warming is real, let’s first find out how many conservatives believe that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is real.

    After all, the Theory of Evolution has been around for over a century and is supported by far more scientific evidence than the theory of global warming. And yet, we’ve got conservative Republicans like this one:


    It seems to me that the battle is joined here. If our fellow conservatives believe that the planet Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that humans romped with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, we can forget about having an intelligent conversation about global warming–or the hole in the ozone layer–or stem-cell research.

  • barker13

    Re: Sinz54 // Jul 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm –


    OK, Sinz, what’s your point? That there are nuts out there…?! I’m guessing we’re ALL aware of that.


    The scientific concensus seems to be that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old.

    Do I buy that figure? SURE! Would I be surprised if 20-30-4–50 years down the road the scientific concensus is that the world is a few billion years older than that – or perhaps a few billion years younger than that – SURE!

    Does anyone believe that the world is 6,000 years old…??? Anyone who regularly posts here…??? I doubt it but if someone wants to prove me wrong by sincerely volunteering their belief that the Earth is indeed only 4,000-6,000 years old… go for it.


    Anything you care to dispute from my 4:56 pm post…???


    P.S. – Sinz… clear something up once and for all: Are you a man or a woman? Correct me if my memory betrays me, but I could swear you’ve identified yourself as a female in the past. Today your “Sinz” handle inadvertently came up as “Stephen,” right? (Or was it Steven?) (Anyway…) So. What’s the deal? Are you a woman with a man’s name or do you post under your husband’s account or…

    Or what…???

    Just curious.

  • Chekote

    Haven’t you got the memo? Is no longer global warming. It is now climate change. Why? Because our planet is actually cooling. http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/32821

    Also, climate change has been going on since the beginnng of planet earth. Scientific data cannot categorically prove that the current changes are due to man’s activities. And even if you believe that man is the sole cause of climate change, then we should push for a global approach. A national approach will not solve the problem. In any case, the old New Majority became very tedious with this global warming stuff and gay marriage. Please try to make this blog interesting. I support your stated mission but sometimes you make it really hard to stick around.

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