An Open Letter to Fellow Conservatives

Bob Inglis

Dear Fellow Conservatives:

You are the most important people in the world when it comes to solving climate change. Climate action won't happen without you. The world is waiting on America, and America is waiting on conservatives.

"The world is waiting on America, and America is waiting on conservatives."

There's considerable political risk in ignoring the issue. The polling data indicates that Americans have decided that climate change is a problem. Americans will take "something" over "nothing" when we've decided that we have a problem.

Conservatives should be the first to raise our voices. To do otherwise is to put the lie to our message of self-reliance and honest industry. Conservatives should be the first to confront racism and insist on true equality of opportunity for all Americans, to wear face masks and practice social distancing, to love our neighbors -- the elderly man in the grocery store, the cancer patient in the airport. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of the faith that so many of us profess so loudly. We should be the first to come forward with free enterprise solutions to climate change. To do otherwise is to admit that we don’t really believe in the ingenuity of free people.

"Conservatives should be the first to confront racism and insist on true equality of opportunity for all Americans ... To do otherwise is to make a mockery of the faith that so many of us profess so loudly."

As to climate change, there are three ways to fix the problem: we can regulate emissions; we can incentivize new technology; or we can price-in the negative effects of burning fossil fuels.

I. Regulating

Conservatives aren't so big on expanding the regulatory state. Even if we were, we'd see the limit of regulations: American only. Regulations adopted here, apply here. Regulated firms would move their manufacturing to countries that don't regulate emissions, and once there, they'd emit more than they're emitting here because America is more energy efficient than non-regulating countries.

II. Incentivizing

Incentives for clean energy are attractive to politicians on the right and the left. Incentives can work in a rich country like America and they kick-start new technologies. We can celebrate that. Decreasing the costs of clean energy will remain difficult, especially for poorer countries, if the market for renewable power production equipment remains small. A contrasting example is the high demand for cell phone technology, where a huge market of 7 billion people around the world wanting cell phones has led to tremendous cost crashes. Since emissions anywhere contribute to climate change everywhere, incentives for America exclusively may start us toward the goal, but they won't get us to the goal.

III. Pricing

The small government solution to climate change is simple accountability: Make all polluters accountable for the impacts of emissions by putting a price on those impacts. Sooty electricity, for example, would lose out to solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power. Not because governments favor them, but because consumers will see that they are actually cheaper when you consider all of the costs associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Self-interest and good economics should and would drive innovation -- not fickle tax incentives, clumsy mandates or intrusive regulations.

"The small government solution to climate change is simple accountability: make all polluters accountable."

The pricing-in of emissions can be accomplished by a carbon tax. Yikes, a tax?! Yes, that's exactly what Milton Friedman, the famous conservative economist, suggested as the solution to pollution. This tax would be paired with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in existing taxes or a dividend of all of the carbon tax revenue back to the citizenry, making it "revenue-neutral." The tax would be applied to imports coming from countries that didn't have the same price on carbon dioxide, making it "border-adjustable." Since countries around the world want to sell products into the American market, the whole world would follow America's lead. There'd be no need for an international agreement; no bowing and scraping at the United Nations; no prolonged negotiations -- just a bold move by the United States.

If we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit the lack of viable alternatives to Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act. Or, if we've had alternatives, those too failed to capture the sway of the American people. What we could use is some imaginative and principled leadership right now.

We need to get climate action right before big government gets it wrong. The good news is the Left tends to support market-oriented solutions. By bringing Right and Left together, we can bring America together and lead the world to solutions on climate change.

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