A good example: the extremes of both sides are not supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax, expressed by Initiative I-732.
On one hand, there are left-leaning environmental and labor groups such as the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, Climate Solutions, the Northwest Progressive Institute, the Machinist and SEIU unions. And on the other, there are those on the right, such as the leadership of the WA Republican party.
Both are putting their political agendas ahead of rational decision making and the public good. Both are distorting or ignoring the science for their own agendas. Both need to change their approach and work towards a rational, facts-based, strategy to deal with climate change.
Consider, I-732, the revenue-neutral carbon tax facilitated by a grass-roots Washington State group, CarbonWashington (CarbonWA). Led by economist Yoram Bauman, CarbonWa, an army of enthusiastic volunteers across the State collected over 360,000 signatures for the initiative, which is now before the Washington State Legislature (only 250,000 valid signatures are needed). The initiative calls for a modest tax on carbon fuels, with ALL proceeds refunded by reducing the sales tax by 1%, removing the B&O tax, and funding a tax rebate for working families. Revenue neutral.
This initiative is good policy in many ways. A carbon tax will encourage conservation without picking solutions. Governments have a very bad track record in picking energy solutions, promoting expensive disasters such as biofuels and the now defunct Solyndra photovoltaic company. Far better to allow free markets to make the decisions and investments. Furthermore, the initiative will make Washington State taxes less regressive (and they are very regressive today). A very similar tax was adopted with great success in British Columbia, resulting in less carbon usage and no negative economic impacts.
Importantly, the revenue-neutral carbon tax could be bipartisan, since it reflects the values on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are not going to support a revenue-positive carbon tax or cap-and-trade alternative.
Groups and individuals from all sides of the political spectrum and major leaders of the business community support the revenue-neutral carbon tax as an effective approach for slowing the growth of carbon in the atmosphere. For example, at the recent AGU meeting, I heard world-class entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space-X, and the originator of PayPal, suggest that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is a crucial part of the solution.
Todd Myers of the free market, Washington Policy Center, is a strong advocate of the I-732 revenue neutral carbon tax approach, as is Bill Finkbeiner, former Republican majority leader in the Washington State Senate. Well known Democratic party leaders such as Mike McGinn, former Seattle mayor, Ron Sims, former King County Executive, and Peter Steinbrueck, former Seattle City councilmember support I732. Major church groups such as the Washington State Unitarian Climate Justice effort believe I732 is a major advance.
The carbon tax is superior to cap and trade schemes, which have generally failed where they have been tried (such as in Europe), with plummeting carbon prices and the funds going for political pet projects. The revenue-neutral carbon tax is simple, effective, and will not be gamed by politicians. It is based on the proven economic principle of taxing what you don't want. If the WA legislature passes it in their current session, our state will prove that reasonable, bipartisan action on climate change is possible; it would be an example to the nation.
Unfortunately, here in Washington State, folks on the left and right are not supporting the carbon tax for their own partisan reasons. On the right, there are influential state legislators like Senator Doug Erickson, chair of the Senate Energy committee, who opposes I732, doubts the validity of greenhouse gas warming, and who invites ill-informed "experts" (like Don Easterbrook) to testify to the legislature. Another major Republican figure, Senator Andy Hill, has not commented publicly on I732 but doubts the seriousness of human-induced climate change. If you want to read something disturbing, take a look at a section of the platform of the WA State Republican party dealing with the environment:
"Climate change occurs naturally and warming from human generated greenhouse gases has yet to be proven. ... At present climate change science does not provide sufficient basis to formulate public policy."
This statement is false. There is plenty of scientific basis to formulate public policy.
A number of Republican leaders are using three claims to support their inaction:
1. The worldwide temperatures have not risen in the last decade (a.k.a., the pause or hiatus). This proves nothing because scientists expect periods of little change occasionally due to natural variability. In the end, increasing greenhouse gases will dominate.
2. That many of the claims of environmental activists are exaggerated or wrong. This is true, many of the claims of CURRENT impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are hyped or wrong (such as killing of baby oysters here in Washington State). But the Republicans are missing the point. The threat is not the impacts NOW, but the large impacts expected later in the century. Those future impacts are what everyone should be worried about, including them.
3. Washington State, with all its hydropower, is only a small part of the global greenhouse emission problem, why should we do anything? The truth is any one area, state, or country is a small part of the problem. But the big problem is really a lot of small problems that can only dealt with if everyone is part of the solution.
Republican leadership is missing in action regarding supporting I732 or dealing with future climate change. They have developed a collection of invalid excuses for inaction (see above). This is an example of leadership following from behind, since more and more Republicans are concerned about the future impacts of greenhouse gas warming. I know this because I have given talks on climate to mainly Republican groups, such to the Rotary Club and growers in Yakima, or the Association of Washington Businesses. Ask growers about their concerns for future water resources or ranchers worried about wild fires. Republicans need to be part of the solution, not frittering away time doing nothing.
The left-leaning "environmental" groups are just as bad. For example, a group that is opposing I732 is the Alliance for Clean Energy and Jobs, which doesn't like the carbon initiative because of its revenue neutrality--they want an initiative that will produce large amounts of revenue to be used for social programs.
The Alliance, which supposedly represents a lot of environment groups, unions, and social action efforts, wants a carbon-positive tax that would pump billions of dollars into their pet projects. They are really into social action and using the money for minority and low-income groups, who they claim (without any proof) are somehow more affected by climate change. I do not believe they are correct; climate change will affect everyone; we are all going to suffer from it. From well-to-do farmers in eastern Washington and shellfish growers, to the ski industry, to those in big cities like Spokane impacted to smoke, to all of us who need hydropower.
I can't understand why the Seattle Times and others give any credence to organizations like the Alliance. It is led by an individual with a history as a Democratic political operative, with no background in environmental science or policy, and has funding from a left-leaning billionaire climate advocate (Tom Steyer).
I had a long conversation with a leader of Seattle's Climate Solutions--his group won't support I-732 because they want funds going to a variety of social programs. I think this group needs a new name--they are part of the problem, not the solution.
Seattle's left leaning environmental community is long on symbolism, but short on doing anything meaningful to deal with climate change. They are ready to jump on their kayaks for an ineffectual and meaningless protest regarding the Shell drilling platform. But they are missing in action in dealing with the carbon waste of Seattle's gridlock traffic. Uber liberal Seattle has completely inadequate bus service, does not maintain its bicycle paths, and expanding its rail at a pace that can only be called glacial. Environmental activists also love to fly all over the world (particularly for global warming meetings), which has a huge carbon input to the atmosphere. And they are not supporting I-732.
Now, let them work on the region's gridlock
The Governor? Although he is extraordinarily committed to dealing with climate change, he has not supported I732. Instead he first pushed a revenue positive cap and trade proposal, which was not even supported by other Democrats. Now he is proposing to go alone in capping carbon for major industries, a move that will enrage the Republicans.
So we have a problem. Ineffective Democrats who prefer not to deal with real solutions regarding climate change but like to appeal to their base on social issues. Republican leadership that have found all kinds of excuses to do nothing. Together they have produced a strange type of bipartisan environmental gridlock.
And then comes Yoram Bauman and the I-732 crowd who change the game. Against all expectations they secure the needed signatures. An effective bipartisan approach to reducing carbon usage. The "social justice" environmentalists in the Alliance and elsewhere then panic and try to buy I-732 off, offering nearly a million dollars if the I732 signatures are not handed in, leaving the field open to their replacement initiative, in which carbon taxes would be used for social programs.
Yoram Bauman: Heroic Effort
And now the issue is in the hands of the WA State Legislature.
Conventional wisdom is the I-732 will not pass, due to the issues noted above. But I am not so sure. If I-732 supporters (hundreds of thousands of them!) and rational moderates put pressure on the legislature, perhaps it can be passed during the next few months. But it will take a massive effort and heavy lobbying of our legislature. But it may well be possible. The Republican party needs to understand that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is something they can and should support. And if they sit on their hand, the alternative may well be less to their liking. Democrats must accept that real progress depends on bipartisan action and a series of modest steps like I-732. And that they shouldn't mix their social justice issues with climate change.
So my request: contact your legislators and ask them to vote for I-732.
Let me end by noting that there are so many climate-related issues that Washington State Democrats and Republicans should agree that need attention:
1. Fixing our degraded east-side forests
2. Water conservation and building a robust water supply infrastructure
3. Understanding the regional impacts of climate change.
4. Positioning our state to be a leadership in energy technology
5. Fixing our transportation grid-lock
6. And yes, a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
We need mature, rational political leaders that can understand the effective bipartisan action is required and possible.