Guest opinion: Responding to climate change effectively

Faced with drought, record-busting heat, sudden flash floods, and wildfire smoke, it was difficult to avoid acknowledging the effects of global warming this summer. In this context, a crowd of high school students took to the capitol steps in Salt Lake City demanding climate action as part of Friday’s Global Climate Strike.

We’re grateful so many young people care about this important issue. But we would like to add some perspective to the conversation from our viewpoint as young conservatives. This weekend’s protesters called on lawmakers to respond to climate change urgently, but we’d like to outline how they might also respond effectively.

Which policies are most effective?

The best policies protect America against the worst possible environmental and economic outcomes. As Jonathan Adler, professor at Case Western Reserve University, has often explained, managing climate risk is like purchasing an insurance policy: guard against an uncertain future, but get the premiums as low as possible. The goal is to minimize total costs for American families — that includes the costs of climate change and the costs of the policies themselves.

Thinking about climate action this way exposes many climate initiatives as ineffective or fanciful, like the Green New Deal, which uses environmental rhetoric as a mask for more radical economic goals.

But there are proposals that pass the economic-costs test. Among these is the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends framework that several College Republican leaders from both BYU and UVU endorse. Despite America’s bitterly-polarized political landscape, there is a virtual consensus among economists on the merits of this policy approach. That solidarity is possible because independent organizations have modeled the costs and benefits of this plan — both for the climate and the economy — and confirmed its effectiveness, time and again.

For those of us who lack the training to dissect these complex economic models, there are a few other ways to recognize the superiority of market-based approaches like carbon dividends. The easiest may be to look at the effect on global (not just domestic) carbon emissions.

Even if every car and smokestack in America stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, there would still be too much carbon entering the atmosphere worldwide (not to mention you might find it difficult to travel to work and power your home). Unfortunately, many climate plans do not take this reality into account, and the climate conversation is often dominated by liberal voices that want to dramatically increase regulations on U.S. businesses. Their logic is that if the US leads by decarbonizing its own economy, other countries will follow our example.

The reality is that when the United States — whose carbon emissions have been steadily decreasing for years — cracks down on its own carbon emissions, it will inadvertently incentivize companies to move their operations to nations like China and India with far fewer environmental regulations. Not only will this yield worse environmental outcomes, but it will also shift investment dollars and job opportunities overseas. Far from leading by example, this approach will weaken the US economy, while also giving other nations a reason to resist decarbonization.

We cannot expect other countries to adopt our environmental agenda without offering them the means to do so. As Sen. Mitt Romney, who has advocated for market-based climate action, recently explained, global emissions reductions will not happen without new breakthrough technologies.

When clean energy becomes cheaper than dirtier alternatives, developing countries will naturally transition away from carbon. But that will require significant innovation from private enterprises. The United States (and, in many ways, Utah!) is helping lead the innovation process, but there are ways we can accelerate it.

The carbon dividends plan mentioned earlier uses a carbon border adjustment, paired with a carbon price, to address these challenges. It would hold foreign manufacturers accountable for their pollution — and, in doing so, level the playing field for American companies–and spur the innovation needed to develop cheaper clean energy.

And that is only the start. Carbon pricing would also make nuclear energy more competitive, encourage fossil fuel companies to develop carbon capture, and produce other valuable climate outcomes, all without one cent of additional government spending. No wonder this policy has the support of environmental groups and industry leaders alike, as well as influential Utahns and conservative voters.

This is no time to pretend climate change is a hoax. But if we are not careful in our response to it, we may find we are only pretending to solve the problem.

With a smart, internationally-minded strategy like Baker-Shultz, we can cut to the chase and deliver actual results on climate change. In every sense, this would make a world of difference.

Tyler Cooper is the vice president of UVU College Republicans

Andrew Sandstrom is a former president of BYU College Republicans.