Why in the world have the Yale College Democrats and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, or YSEC, agreed to support a plan backed by Republican politicians and big oil companies? Both groups — in addition to the Yale College Republicans — are now co-founders of a coalition called Students for Carbon Dividends, or S4CD, which promotes a conservative climate solution. Beyond Yale, supporters of the same carbon dividends plan include George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff and ExxonMobil but also The Nature Conservancy, The New York Times and Stephen Hawking.
How did all of these people and organizations agree on the same thing? And why is YSEC on board? The first time I heard of the carbon dividends plan, I was looking for the catch. The idea of supporting anything endorsed by the fossil fuel industry was unthinkable. Now, I think S4CD is the most important work I do on campus. When implemented, the policy will reduce emissions by 28 percent below 2005 levels, nearly twice the expected decrease from current regulations according to a report by the Climate Leadership Council. I want to explain why it is important for YSEC, a traditionally nonpartisan umbrella organization, to back S4CD and in doing so create momentum for a breakthrough climate solution.
I think a lot about what YSEC does and who it represents, mostly so I know what to say when my friends confuse my group with YSECS, the Yale Society for Exploring Campus Secrets that probably pestered you during Bulldog Days. Here’s my typical response: YSEC works to foster a sense of community and common interest among student environmentalists and groups of all kinds at Yale and beyond.
Groups of all kinds. Now what does that mean, exactly? To me, it means that YSEC should give voice to students and groups of all interests and backgrounds, especially to those who are traditionally underrepresented. Our coalition group, Fossil Free Yale, does an amazing job of that, leading passionate students in organized action against environmental and social injustices perpetrated by Yale. However, there is one voice conspicuously missing from the climate change conversation on campus: young Republicans.
As a YSEC board member, my initial mistrust of S4CD was rooted in common misconception: that self-professed environmentalists are almost always politically left-of-center. However, according to a 2016 survey conducted by AGC Research, 85 percent of young conservatives believe the climate is changing, and 74 percent want to address climate change in a way that does not hurt the economy. So why haven’t they spoken up? Before now, Republicans had no way to vote for the planet without betraying their party. The environmental fixes offered by Democrats were also reliant on big government control and increasing regulation. S4CD embodies a new energy, offering a plan built on conservative values. I see YSEC’s support as a direct extension of our mission to unite all students who share an understanding of the threat environmental issues pose to political justice and economic prosperity.
S4CD’s launch is momentous because, for the first time, conservatives are uniting students of all political beliefs around an actionable plan. While co-authored by leaders of the Republican party, the carbon dividends plan is meant to be a consensus climate solution. The plan is based on four pillars: a gradually rising and revenue-neutral carbon tax; carbon dividend payments to all Americans, funded by 100 percent of the revenue; rollback of carbon regulations that are no longer necessary; and border carbon adjustments to level the playing field for workers and businesses.
Liberals and environmentalists can get excited about a tax on carbon that finally holds extractive capitalists accountable for emissions and gives money back to low-income Americans who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. On the other hand, conservatives can get excited because the plan relies on free-market principles, swaps out regulations for a price on carbon and puts pressure on other countries to meet an American standard.
Despite my instinctive hesitation to agree with anything that Shell, BP and ExxonMobil have signed on to, I see this plan as the best way to take swift, effective action against climate change. On the issue of climate change, the clock is running down, and I am willing to make unlikely allies if it means getting something done. Endorsing the carbon dividends plan is a decision I am proud to make, in order to help unite my generation over a critical global issue and bring about necessary, rapid change.
YSEC and the other co-founders of S4CD are launching a movement. Surrounded as we are by an intense atmosphere of political divisiveness, the carbon dividends plan is nothing short of groundbreaking — the first bipartisan plan to offer a realistic solution to climate change. Faced with an existential climate threat, we are ready to push for a solution that will actually win. S4CD gives me hope because it is going to get things done, and I urge you to believe in it as deeply as I do.
Dani Schulman is a sophomore in Davenport College. Dani Schulman is currently serving as YSEC Media Chair and is also a core member of S4CD, although she does not represent the views of either group in their entirety in this article. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .