Three weeks ago, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a grim report on the state of our planet. As soon as 2030, we could begin to experience the devastating effects of climate change — indeed, we are already experiencing them, the fires in California and the super storms of recent memory serving as two examples. The gravity of the situation calls me, and I hope many of you, to action. I’m a first year, and the feelings of helplessness and despair that can stem from the IPCC’s report are not what I wanted to feel as I begin my time at Yale, the place I’m beginning to call “home.”
Then came Sterling Professor of Economics and former University Provost William Nordhaus, Yale’s most recent Nobel laureate. Central to Nordhaus’ work is the idea of a price on carbon dioxide pollution — a “carbon tax.” Due to its abundance and chemical makeup, carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to global warming. What Nordhaus teaches us is that incorporating the price of pollution in our day-to-day economic transactions is vital and effective at combating the climate threat. Right now, we don’t pay anywhere near the actual cost of carbon dioxide pollution.
A price on carbon is the Economics 101 (or 115) solution to climate change; if you raise the price of something, you get less of it. The most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to embed the associated cost of pollution in every single good and service we pay for. A price on carbon sends a clear market signal to consumers and producers to invest in and buy carbon-efficient activities — use of renewables, efficient use and manufacturing of materials and investment in sustainable technological innovation.
A price on carbon carries the endorsement of experts beyond that of Nordhaus. N. Gregory Mankiw, the author of several bestselling economics textbooks, said that “There is a complete consensus among economists that putting a price on carbon is the right thing to do. And this is economists from the left, from the right and [from] the middle.”
What stands in the way of implementing this solution? Our politics, unsurprisingly.
Climate solutions have suffered from political polarization and poor communication. We know there’s a problem, we know what the most effective solution is (a price on carbon) and now we just need to implement it. Recent climate action has largely been articulated in terms of progressive values, but conservatives understand the science and the problem, too. In the words of our own Ben Zollinger ’19, president of the Yale College Republicans, “What’s more conservative than conservation [itself]?” We, students of many political leanings, are bound by the fact that we understand science and that climate instability will plague our generation more than any other currently living generation. The threat will touch our agriculture, our beaches, our coastal universities (Yale is on the coast!) and our homes. This is not a red or a blue issue — this is an all-American red, white and blue issue.
I joined Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD) here at Yale because they understand the magnitude of the climate threat. Moreover, they understand the power students here and across the country can harness for political action. S4CD is a national coalition of Republican, Democratic and environmental groups. The coalition aims to both spread awareness about carbon pricing and mobilize support for policy. Specifically, we seek to implement the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends plan. This plan is a carbon price package that exceeds emission reduction commitments made in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. It is winning support from both sides, but most notably from Republican luminaries including former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz. This package would compensate the average Joe with a dividend, the money generated by the tax, making 70 percent of Americans earn more money back than they would pay in higher energy prices.
The foundation of the Baker-Shultz plan rests on the work for which Nordhaus is being celebrated. It is environmentally ambitious and politically viable. With the platform S4CD provides, it is arguably the best way to harness the platform Yale provides us and use it to lead our generation toward a smart climate policy. We have a certain responsibility to be extremely focused on what will actually tackle the heart of the threat.
We have the solution. There is hope. It’s just a matter of communicating this solution — help us in that mission.
If you would like to learn more about the efforts of S4CD and be involved in the defining issue of our generation, come to one of our weekly meetings, every Friday at 11:30 in room 120 in the Center for Teaching and Learning or visit https://www.s4cd.org.
Jackson Pullman is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .