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In an announcement this morning, the environmental policy think tank Climate Leadership Council released the names of over 3,300 signatories endorsing its carbon tax plan.

Last month, the council published a statement in The Wall Street Journal endorsing the Baker-Schultz Carbon Dividends plan, a bipartisan proposal to tax carbon and reduce emissions endorsed by 45 of America’s leading economists. Behind the scenes, more than 50 Yale members of the student organization Students for Carbon Dividends, also known as S4CD,  worked to create a database of every academic economist in the country in hopes of expanding the organization’s reach.

By using this database, activists at the Climate Leadership Council — as well as former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — were able to recruit an economist from nearly every major university in the United States to endorse the plan. These signatories join 27 Nobel laureates, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, all living former Federal Reserve chairs and two former secretaries of the Department of Treasury, all of whom signed the initial statement published in January.

“This really is an unprecedented show of force from economists,” S4CD President Alexander Posner ’19. “There’s never been a statement this large on climate policy, ever. Here we have the economics community really speaking in a common voice, saying here’s the best way to go.”

The plan has since been endorsed by both environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. and General Motors, in addition to political leaders from across the spectrum. According to Posner, this is the first climate policy to be endorsed by college Republicans nationwide and is backed by the broadest climate coalition in American history.

“It has clear bipartisan appeal. I think what makes this exciting is that for an issue that’s been as polarized as [climate change], there now seems to be a proposal emerging that provides the basis for a bipartisan breakthrough,” he said.

In addition, Posner said that their work has provided his team with a nationwide network of college economists and faculty members who could potentially hold events in support of the plan. Posner predicts this will help to grow their base of supporters.

“On college campuses in particular, where our Yale-based operation is focused, we think this statement provides great momentum for us to continue engaging student groups on campuses across the country. We can now point to members of their faculty who are supportive of this,” he said.

The Climate Leadership Council plans to introduce legislation based on the statement later this year. However, according to Carlton Carroll, the council’s vice president of communications, U.S. President Donald Trump’s history of climate change denial and regulation rollback makes it unlikely that serious political action will happen until after the next general election. Still, Carroll is hopeful.

“We think this is a winning plan that has been embraced by both Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “It’s becoming even more clear now that the bipartisan path forward is through a carbon dividends framework that we’re advocating for.”

Harvard economics professor and original co-signatory to the January statement, Greg Mankiw said that he would be willing to talk to student groups to further S4CD’s cause. Mankiw, a believer in grassroots efforts like S4CD, said that he thinks the Baker-Schultz plan is an example of textbook economics.

According to Mankiw, the plan works because of a principle called externality internalization. Pollution is an externality, or an indirect cost for which people outside of a transaction have to pay. The cost of purchasing gas is internal or is only between the gas company and the consumer. By passing on the cost of pollution to the producer through a tax, market forces will dissuade people from using products that emit harmful carbon gas into the atmosphere.

“Anybody who’s studied basic economics can see the logic of this plan,” Mankiw said. “The problem is that most people have not studied basic economics, and so the question is, how do we educate people to recognize that this is the least-cost approach to this serious global problem?”

For Ben Zollinger ’19, president emeritus of the Yale College Republicans and vice president of S4CD, this answer lies in more outreach.

“We’re really hoping that this announcement will help show that even in their own scenario, at their own college in their part of the country, climate change affects them, and that this plan is viable for them and whatever their individual scenario in the part of the country is,” said Zollinger, who helped collect data for the database over winter break.

S4CD was founded in spring 2017.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu