Conservative solutions to global warming

My colleague Alexei Laushkin alerted me to a Slate interview with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gingrich is a small government conservative, and he’s not afraid of science, so he understands the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming. He’s not in favor of mandatory caps on carbon dioxide. As an economist, I disagree: I think some sort of policy to give a price to carbon pollution is necessary to get us where we need to be on greenhouse gas pollution.

But a price on carbon is not sufficient–there need to be positive policies in place to stimulate the right kind of investment, and that’s where Gingrich’s perspective is especially helpful. He talks about introducing policies that will allow the entrepreneurial free market system put its energies into finding technological innovations that will create the new energy economy. He discusses them at length in his book "Contract with the Earth". 

Gingrich would pay for these incentives with tax dollars–essentially diverting wealth from every taxpayer into the pockets of corporations to incentivize the necessary inventions. I think either a cap-and-trade system with auctioned permits or a carbon tax are better public policy, and the revenues from those policies could accomplish what Gingrich proposes.

Check out the left/right ad in which Gingrich appears with Nancy Pelosi to promote climate solutions. They disagree on the policies, but agree on the science and the urgency behind solving anthropogenic global warming. 

One thought on “Conservative solutions to global warming

  1. Rusty,
    Much of this feels like the “more government is the solution” line that has been around as long as I can remember. Libertarian leaning conservatives like me have a set of beliefs that won’t be fooled by saying you will present a conservative solution followed by a governmental-liberal solution. If Global Warming needs to be stopped, I would say you have only a few options. You could ignore the conservatives and try to get a majority to override them. You could try to get conservatives to become governmental-liberals on the specific issue of global warming. Or you could have a solution that would persuade conservatives to join. Here’s my suggestion given the concerns I have as a libertarian-leaning conservative.
    1. A carbon tax is best. Economists seem almost uniform in this. If global warming is an external cost, a tax would best internalize the externality without deciding in advance what the “right” level of emissions is.
    2. The tax should address the concerns conservatives have that Global Warming isn’t real, and that it is really a government power grab. It should be tied in some way to the evidence, either simply through global average temperatures or in a more complicated manner based on athropogenic signatures as Ross McKittrick has suggested. It should automatically expire if temperatures stay low for an extended time.
    3. All other badgering about oil use should stop. Conservatives suspect that the Global Warming hysteria is just an excuse to hamper our economy by eliminating oil as a fuel, even if oil is the best choice given all costs including externalities. The carbon tax would internalize the externalities and create the right incentives for everyone. There is no need then for CAFE standards, effective bans on incandescent light bulbs, etc, and they should be repealed. The new after-tax prices should accomplish all that’s needed.
    4. The tax should be rebated in a way that doesn’t affect incentives. An unrebated tax would have a disproportionate effect on the poor who spend a larger percentage of income on gas and would be the first to curtail driving, heating and AC in light of the tax.

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