Republicans are the party of Texas tea, coal, and F-350s. While this stereotype might be true for the older generation of GOP voters, younger conservatives are much more open-minded to environmentalism. Benjamin Backer, a recent college grad from Washington certainly fits this description, which is why he decided to found the American Conservation Coalition.
ACC is a group of young conservatives pushing for “economically sound and free market responses to climate change”. The only problem? They don’t want to stop polluting. ACC refuses to set a deadline for the use of fossil fuels, set a goal for fossil fuel reduction, or tax pollution. To be clear, their version of a “climate contract” has America using fossil fuels indefinitely.
Instead of mitigating global warming, ACC has advocated for corporate socialism in the form of tax cuts for natural gas. I suppose this is one of those free market subsidies?
The four major tenets of the “Climate Contract” are: energy innovation, 21st century infrastructure, natural solutions, and global engagement. The gist of their vision is that America can spur innovation, use lots of natural gas, plant swamps to deter floodwaters, and sequester some carbon along the way.
Innovation isn’t a barrier to exclusively carbon-free electricity which already exists. It is scaling out rapidly, and becoming more efficient while dropping in price yearly. New wind and solar are cheaper than fossil sources for most new locations today. When you factor in the costs of climate change and health consequences (asthma-hello!) it is patently clear that natural gas and coal are much more expensive than “green energy” even without subsidies. Put simply, we already have the technology for lots of cheap green energy.
“Rewilding” or restoring nature to a more untouched form can help climate change resilience, but ACC is misleading to suggest that this can take place at the scale needed to reduce climate change. We have created about 545 gigatons of carbon, and we could sequester at a maximum of 200 gigatons only by increasing the forested area of the entire Earth by 25%. This is expensive, unlikely, and hard to do. Plus, what happens as trees continue to die off from climate change and wildfires? The whole gambit seems more like an excuse to keep using fossil fuels while we feel good about planting a few trees.
You simply cannot slow down or reverse climate change while still producing massive levels of carbon emissions. ACC even wants to expand net gas usage in hopes of reducing coal. This is great, but it fails to understand that even natural gas needs to be phased out, not used as a crutch. The leaks and flaring may make natural gas almost as bad as coal, so it is dishonest to present this as a straightforward trade-off. Even the most partisan of natural gas supporters who believe in climate change should admit that coal and natural gas need to be on a pathway to wind-down, but ACC refuses to do that. Instead, ACC promotes impossibly expensive plans of carbon sequestration.
This is dangerous because it promotes fuels that cause climate change, with the hope of catching the CO2 and storing it in goods or underground. This is really complicated, and needs to store massive amounts of carbon forever at really low costs. Essentially it is impossible if not improbable to do, and even if it did, it would likely be more expensive than using wind and solar.
Privatized gains, socialized losses
Benjamin and ACC suggest that in the end, “the market” will provide wins for environmentalism. This is flawed because the very real costs of climate change are not priced in to the people who benefit from fossil fuel usage. By not setting limits, timelines, deadlines, or penalties of any sort on carbon emissions, they are giving a huge pass to the industry. Fossil fuels cause climate change, and we need to use less of them. Even if there was some sort of viable carbon capture, without a mandate companies would refuse to use it.
The best idea is to even out the costs and benefits by putting some form of limit or cost on their use, which prevents the over-usage of the pollutant. In fact, it is actually a very efficient and capitalistic way to create a market based solution to climate change. George Bush used this exact idea to create a market for reducing acid rain. It was a tremendous success, and had minimal economic impact. Although government was involved, it only set the rules and prevented unfair destruction of private property. ACC literally cites this famously elegant solution, but fails to realize that this is completely antithetical to the policies they are promoting.
ACC could go for a dose of market-making and ditch the socialism of giving polluters a free pass.