Earlier this year, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a bombastic young Trump supporter, unveiled a response to the Green New Deal that recognizes that it “is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green Real Deal to…achieve robust, economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reductions.” Whether this was a sincere olive branch or a head fake is unclear.
But the rhetoric suggests that there are some Republicans who take these issues seriously and raises the possibility of bipartisan compromise—which is more than Democrats who bother to show up at MSNBC’s climate forum can be expected to offer.
This time, though, there will at least be some competition. Among the candidates participating in the forum will be Republican Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, whose attendance raises an interesting question: Can the party that gave us Theodore Roosevelt and the EPA offer a climate vision that falls somewhere between out-and-out denial and throwing $16 trillion at the problem?
This question is not a trivial one. There is data to suggest that Republican-backed climate policies are more likely to actually pass and endure. And the good news is that the vision part is already being worked on.
Take, for example, former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, who has, for years now, been pushing a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would be offset by an equivalent cut to income or payroll taxes (or is returned to households in the form of a dividend). This is a potentially salable idea for two reasons. First, conservatives like tax cuts—and there is a certain logic to increasing the cost of something we don’t want (carbon) in exchange for lowering the taxes on things we do want to encourage (income and paychecks).
Second, for pragmatic defenders of capitalism, a revenue-neutral carbon tax would be vastly superior to a regime that seeks to redistribute revenue, overhaul the “entire economy,” tell Americans how and what we eat, and fund abortions—you know, the kind of policy that might eventually emerge if Republicans allow progressives to completely define the parameters of this debate.
If that’s not enticement enough, the Climate Leadership Council, founded by former Reagan Chief of Staff James Baker, former Secretary of State George Shultz, Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw, and others is proposing an idea to help get corporations on board. Mitt Romney calls the plan “thought-provoking,” and former GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott supports it.
There are plenty of Republican ideas and "centrist" ground on which to base a climate policy.
Carbon taxes can be revenue-neutral, fracking and nuclear power (the best way to reduce carbon) can be encouraged, and energy companies can get on board with legal protections (and the ability to transition into a clean energy future), while remaining profitable.
Indeed, Bill Weld’s stated climate plan includes carbon pricing—as well as nuclear energy and natural gas. He would also rejoin the Paris Accord immediately.
Via an email exchange with his communications director, Weld told me the Green New Deal was “doctrinaire in opposition to nuclear power as an energy source, and to natural gas even as a transition fuel pending the phasing out of coal and oil.” Because we are facing an “existential threat posed by climate change to our planet and its inhabitants,” Weld continued, “these positions are unaffordable ideological luxuries, and should be considered currently irresponsible.”
Weld also said that his revenue-neutral carbon tax plan would repeal the gas tax and the tax on diesel fuel, and reduce payroll taxes for lower-income workers and households.
So Republicans, some of them, anyway, do have a pretty good take on how to dramatically reduce carbon in the environment—in a way that would be pretty palatable to most mainstream Americans. Likewise, there are plenty of reasonable Democrats who were critical of the Green New Deal who very well might support some of the aforementioned ideas.
Getting to that kind of solution is a problem only because, in our tribal politics, where you stand on climate is seen as akin to what political team you are on. That feeds a notion on the left that striving for common ground with Republicans and corporations is foolish, so you might as well insist on a strictly democratic socialist solution and fight until you get it. At the same time, many Republicans worry that if you give the progressive left an inch, they will take a foot.
At the end of the day, what’s missing here is what is missing in our politics, writ large: adult leadership.
The good news is that this at least allows for the possibility that, at some point, the right leaders will emerge.
The only problem is that is, by then, it may be too late.
Update: An earlier version of this article referred to the Climate Leadership Council's plan to offer legal immunity to current carbon polluters; they revised their plan earlier this month so that it no long would do so, and that reference has been removed.