Quora Question: What Should Politicians Do About Climate Change?

Trees Climate Change
A subalpine forest in Colorado. Forests in the southwestern U.S. are expected to be among the hardest hit by climate change, according to projections in a paper published Wednesday. Sydne Record

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Answer from Michael Lee, public policy analyst:

Speculation: climate change itself is far less controversial than what we should do about climate change. Also, the term "climate change" is now something of a code phrase for "what we should do about climate change," which is no doubt why so many people deny the very existence of climate change in opinion polling. Leaving aside the snowball-on-the-Senate-floor crowd, it's not that so many people actually think the climate is static, but that they're interpreting the question as asking for their views of proposed actions on climate change!

So in order to get people to take climate change action more seriously, politicians should probably take those actions more seriously. In descending order of probability of success:

  • Levy a carbon tax. No, I don't love the idea of paying more in taxes, which is why I'd suggest that it replace the income tax over time, with appropriate progressivity provisions. But if climate change is truly the existential threat of our times, then we should take it seriously as a matter of public finance. Of course, higher gas taxes and the like are hideously unpopular, but I never said this was likely to happen.
  • Develop strong international agreements. One of the biggest arguments against climate change action in the U.S. is that any reduction in carbon emissions that we can manage will be more than offset by increased emissions in developing countries. In effect, we're sacrificing economic growth while other countries enjoy it, with no net effect on the global climate, and that's a hard sell. (That's not the whole picture, either: theoretically, we'd be validating mitigation strategies that could later proliferate in the developing world. But that's still theoretical). It's been a while since I looked at the details, but I understand that the famous Kyoto Protocol was woefully inadequate, and wouldn't have even stabilized greenhouse gas emissions. That's just not good enough.
  • "Walk the walk." Far too many global elites, including many politicians, think nothing of jetting off to their favorite destinations, living in gigantic homes, and driving anywhere they'd like (or perhaps more accurately, being chauffeured!) The media abound with tales of global climate change conferences with hundreds upon hundreds of private jets at the nearest airport, Hollywood stars inveighing against climate change and then flying off to European resorts, and otherwise reveling in carbon emissions-heavy lifestyle. Now, far be it from this Republican to quibble with how the wealthy spend their money! But it's clearly a bit of a problem for all of those elites to advocate for solutions that they claim are—as Dylan Matthews of Vox describes carbon taxes—"literally necessary to save the planet"—when they won't abide by them in their personal lives. More succinctly: when demanding that everyone sacrifice, one has more credibility by already sacrificing!

Of course, none of these are tremendously likely: carbon taxes are unpopular (so even if they were enacted, they'd likely be repealed rather quickly), international climate change agreements with any teeth are impossible to obtain (though that's not a problem unique to climate change), and the world's wealthy aren't going to give up their lifestyles on the chance that they'll convince the proletariat to cut back on carbon emissions.

It's indeed something of a pickle.

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Quora Question: What Should Politicians Do About Climate Change? | Tech & Science