For the last decade or more, carbon taxes have been proposed as a potential solution to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The idea is to put a fee on carbon dioxide emissions and other gases that threaten to exacerbate the consequences of climate change. Carbon taxes have been offered as a market-friendly climate policy solution as opposed to other mechanisms like government regulation. In this way the carbon tax has become to be accepted by climate change-affirming Republicans and begun to be rejected by very progressive Democrats. Over the summer it has been fascinating to explore the debate over carbon taxes and the interesting ideological divides that have formed around the policy.
Environmental policy work in Washington D.C. is already a fascinating space to observe science policy. For the past several years of my life the debate seemed pretty clearly laid out. On one side there are predominately Democrats that believe the scientific reporting that human action and production of carbon emissions is driving climate change with the trend largely indicating a warming planet and more severe storms amongst other things. On the other side of the debate are predominately Republicans who don’t think that there is strong enough scientific evidence to conclude that human action is the main driver of a warming climate. However, this summer showed me that this debate is increasingly becoming more nuanced.
As annual trends continue to indicate a warming climate and research has begun to show links between severe weather events and climate change, more and more people seem to be accepting the reality of climate change and its links to human activity. In fact, a large number of conservative-identifying millennials are in support of action to stop climate change. As more right-leaning individuals accept climate change, they tend to embrace policy proposals like a carbon tax over stricter regulatory policies. Meanwhile, the Green New Deal has created a strong movement amongst more progressive individuals who now tend to dismiss carbon taxes as too little to combat climate change. This has created a position where both the far-right and far-left are in opposition to carbon taxes with far more support amongst middle-left voters and some support from middle-right voters. In that sense that are divides growing in both parties over climate policy with most support coming from moderate individuals.
My work this summer has focused on trying to capitalize on the shift on the right. The organization that I intern for works with a lot of Republican Congresspeople to push for more climate policy. Furthermore, we have met with many interesting people this summer including a former Republican Representative, Bob Inglis, who is also leading a movement amongst right-leaning audiences to push for more legislative action in climate. It has been very exciting to work in the environmental sphere of science policy, but even more exciting to get to see and actually work as a part of promoting and utilizing a shift in perspective to drive policy action forward.
While climate policy can be a daunting and often disheartening topic, I think there are a lot of promising things to take from this experience. The debate is shifting away from whether or not climate change is a real threat and that there is beginning to be support from both sides to address the issue through policy. While differences continue to persist in what type of policy is best, it has been fascinating for me to see, read about, and interact with a shifting political attitude toward climate change. While it is happening slowly, it still merits optimism and hope around the issue.