Why climate change is splitting Republicans
Which is why Andrew Moylan, from a national think tank called the R Street Institute, wasn’t certain how the right-leaning Globe Theatre crowd would react to his debate position: that a carbon tax could in fact make the U.S. more prosperous.
“We saw the RSVP list ahead of time,” Moylan recounted, “and it didn’t suggest the room would be stacked in our direction.”
By night’s end, Moylan and his debate partner, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis, won the room over.
“We had a show of hands, and there was a pretty large consensus in support of our position,” Moylan went on. “Maybe what that says is people agree there’s a theoretical case to be made” in favour of a carbon tax…
…And as conservatives such as Moylan and Inglis attempt to widen that divide, by pushing Republicans to embrace a carbon tax, they’re looking north to the only jurisdiction in North America that has one: British Columbia.
“It’s relatively early days for [B.C.’s carbon tax],” Moylan told The Tyee. “But it’s encouraging for those of us who support the idea to be able to point to someplace where it’s actually happening.”
You could say it’s early days as well for Moylan’s think tank, the R Street Institute. It was founded just over a year ago by defectors from the Heartland Institute, one of North America’s most prominent climate skepticism groups.
Since the late 1990s, Heartland has received more than $600,000 from Exxon Mobil and $55,000 from Koch Industries to question climate science. Last summer, though, it did something “extremely ill-advised” in the opinion of Eli Lehrer.
Lehrer used to head the non-profit group’s insurance research team. But he left in May of 2012, when Heartland ran a billboard in Chicago comparing believers in global warming to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
“A great many people think there is significant risk of climate change,” Lehrer told Insurance Journal at the time. “A billboard that says people who believe that this will happen are similar to terrorists withdraws you from rational debate.”
The Unabomber ad caused major insurance company backers of Heartland to withdraw their support. Within 24 hours, Heartland pulled the ad down, and called off future billboards featuring Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro.
Not long afterwards Lehrer, along with other former Heartland colleagues, created the R Street Institute. “It was largely an amicable split,” Moylan said. “Obviously at its core was a disagreement over a major policy issue.”
A Cautionary Tale
On the issue of global warming, R Street has for the past year promoted a solution it believes is compatible with conservative values: a revenue-neutral carbon tax, where the proceeds, like in British Columbia, are used to offset other taxes.
“Instead of taxing things everybody agrees are good, like income, investment and entrepreneurship, we should tax bad things like greenhouse gases,” Moylan said. “We think that will leave Americans richer in the future…
…”There are plenty of folks across a broad conservative spectrum” who support a carbon tax, Moylan said. But he admits, “It’s definitely a fledgling group. We are under no illusions that this is going to be an easy fight…
…Moylan from the R Street Institute agrees that a carbon tax “isn’t going to do a tremendous amount in and of itself to reduce global emissions.” Even so, he argues, adopting the policy would be an “important symbolic gesture.”
More important still: putting a price on U.S. carbon emissions, and then using the revenue to reduce taxes across the country, Moylan believes, “will leave Americans richer in the future.”
The “wealthier and more prosperous society” enabled by a carbon tax, he adds, would be better able to pay for the solutions needed to solve climate change, and fix the damages that it causes.
To bolster his argument Moylan looks north to British Columbia. Five years after implementing a price on carbon, emissions there have dropped. So too have tax rates. “Those are definitely some positive signs that we look to,” he said.
He’s hopeful the Republican Party will someday also see them.