A peculiar — but very vocal — group has come to Yale’s campus. If you maintain a regular online presence, you may have seen their flashy photo shoots. The group, Students For Carbon Dividends, accentuates their social media pages with cheesy memes from the early 2010s and hashtags meant to appeal to college students (#S4CD — does anyone use texting lingo anymore?) They give interviews to The New York Times and The Atlantic, and their events are periodically covered in the pages of the News. Their mission: to “save the world.” It’s too bad that their plan is a sham.
Students For Carbon Dividends is an openly conservative group that gaslights environmentally conscious Yalies into supporting an untenable and harmful plan designed by the oil lobby, for the oil lobby. Their slogans and memes obfuscate the outrageous details of their supposed “free-market solution.” Allow me to explain.
I first became suspicious of the group’s strategy and motives after reading about them in an article titled “They’re Here to Fix Climate Change! They’re College Republicans.” The group was founded by college Republican club leaders from Yale and Harvard and sponsored by college Republicans from across the nation. Their purported climate-change solution is known as the Baker-Shultz plan, named for two Republican former secretaries of state. Neither of these men are known as proponents of climate change regulation: James Baker, in fact, doesn’t seem to have any understanding of the scientific consensus on global warming. He told The New York Times last year, “I’m sort of a climate change skeptic. … I do think the climate is changing but I don’t know why, and I sure don’t understand the extent to which man may be responsible for it.”
Students For Carbon Dividends would have you believe they aren’t your standard oil-loving, EPA-hating Republicans. But that’s not true. Alexander Posner ’19, the group’s president, describes environmental regulations as “a big government regulatory scheme.” The plan his group promotes is built on a pillar of “regulatory simplification,” by which they mean gutting essential environmental statutes. They want to eliminate Obama-era regulations including the Clean Power Plan, which the League of Conservation Voters calls “the biggest step our country has ever taken to address climate change.” On their website, Students For Carbon Dividends calls this step getting “the government out of the way.”
The plan’s financial ties to the corporate oil lobby are public and trumpeted as an accomplishment. The Climate Leadership Council, which developed the Baker-Shultz plan, lists companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell, and BP as founding members. Last October, Exxon Mobil donated $1 million to Americans For Carbon Dividends, a lobbying group that Students for Carbon Dividends lists on their website. While Students for Carbon Dividends is an independent student organization separate from the Climate Leadership Council and Americans for Carbon Dividends, their complete lack of association becomes difficult to believe given how these two groups are promoted on their website, and how prominently Students for Carbon Dividends is promoted on both the Climate Leadership Council and American for Carbon Dividend’s websites.
This truly breathtaking. Exxon’s sole purpose is to profit off the consumption of fossil fuels. A truly effective climate change plan would never be supported by oil corporations. Exxon’s support means that the carbon dividends plan must be favorable to them. Indeed it is. Under the Baker-Shultz plan, oil corporations enjoy far-reaching immunity, protecting them from lawsuits seeking damages for climate change. Ten such lawsuits have already been filed in Washington, Colorado and New York State. Richard Wiles from the Center for Climate Integrity told Vox, “Climate liability lawsuits present a major threat to [oil corporations’] bottom line.” Tobacco corporations, in contrast, never received this sort of immunity and are now paying a $200 billion settlement to the victims of diseases caused by their products.
Not only would Exxon Mobil benefit from legal immunity and deregulation, it would likely profit financially. The carbon dividends, essentially a tax, would largely be levied on consumers and disproportionately affect coal, rather than gas and oil, consumption. The Baker-Shultz plan, then, is not only corrupt and financially beholden to Big Oil, but will make future effective action impossible.
Students For Carbon Dividends likes to gild their plan with the veneer of economic expertise. They recently released a letter signed by dozens of prominent economists verifying the economic logic of the plan. Do not mistake their support for scientific — or economic — consensus. The statement deemed a carbon tax a “cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions.” But economists are not climate scientists, many of whom believe that this plan won’t tax nearly enough to actually make a difference. Besides, we shouldn’t be compelled to follow an ineffective plan to save a few dollars. Climate change is the largest existential threat to humanity, and we must take every step necessary to ensure our survival, regardless of cost. Moreover, their economic reasoning is built on an essential misconception.
Last week, I spoke with a prominent economist at Columbia who studies climate change. When asked about the economists’ statement, he laughed. As he explained, oil corporations peddle the fiction that climate change is caused by the millions of individual decisions we make as consumers, like turning on an air conditioner. A carbon tax and rebate program can effectively change this behavior, sure — though not with the scale of this plan. The main causes of climate change actually come from relatively few, influential decisions on the part of corporations, like building polluting factories and plants. These decisions must be mitigated with carbon taxes combined with stringent government regulations — not coincidentally, the same ones Students For Carbon Dividends want to gut.
Perhaps my concern seems unfounded. After all, a conservative group pushing for (weak) climate change regulations is progress, right? Maybe. But what alarms me is the ease with which Student For Carbon Dividends bamboozles liberal students and convinces them of the efficacy of their corrupt and harmful “solution.” Last year’s president of the Yale Democrats, Jordan Cozby ’20, told The Atlantic the Baker-Shultz plan is “a good one that we can work with Republicans on, and it’s an improvement on the status quo.” It is neither. The plan was designed by climate skeptics, guts our existing environmental regulations, is beholden to self-serving corporate interests and relies on flawed economic reasoning. Don’t be fooled by their photo shoots and hashtags. Students For Carbon Dividends is gaslighting Yalies and undermining any real chance we have of saving the planet.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Alexander Posner ’19 was a former leader of the Yale College Republicans. That has since been corrected, he has never been a leader of that group.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Students for Carbon Dividends has ties to the corporate oil lobby. S4CD as an independent student group does not have ties to the corporate oil lobby, but the Climate Leadership Council and Americans for Carbon Dividends, do. S4CD is independent of these groups, but lists them on their website.
Isaiah Schrader is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .