Tax carbon emissions and give the money to ordinary Americans, says group of prominent conservatives

February 8, 2017
By Robert Ferris

Several prominent economists, businessmen and government figures, many of whom have served under Republican presidents, say taxing carbon emissions and putting the dividends back in the pockets of Americans would be an effective way to combat climate change and support disaffected citizens, while adhering to conservative principles of free market economics and limited government.

The report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends,” was published online Wednesday by the Climate Leadership Council.

The paper acknowledged that the evidence for climate change is “mounting” and that while “the extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned, the risks associated with future warming are too big and should be hedged.”

At the very least, the authors say, “we need an insurance policy.”

The team also said the populist allure of politicians such as President Donald Trump suggests a frustration and disaffection among many Americans who feel left behind by economic disruption and change.

Taxing carbon and returning the money to ordinary citizens provides an unusual opportunity to provide relief for struggling Americans while hedging against the potential effects of climate change.

The team behind the paper includes several men who have served in key roles in Republican administrations: former Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush (and one-time Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO) Henry M. Paulson Jr., and James A. Baker III, who served as secretary of State under George H.W. Bush, Treasury secretary under Ronald Reagan and chief of staff for both administrations.


Polls conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication have found, for instance, that nearly half of all Republicans would support a carbon tax if other taxes were reduced to compensate.

Thus the current report’s writers say a carbon tax would reduce the potential for the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change, and offer Republicans a chance to repeal other current laws that might be even more burdensome than a carbon tax, reduce entanglements with oil-producing countries, and appeal to the concerns of a wide variety of Americans, including voters who are younger, or among the fast-growing groups of Latino and Asian Americans.

They say the “plan could strengthen our economy, benefit working-class Americans, reduce regulations, protect our natural heritage and consolidate a new era of Republican leadership. These benefits accrue regardless of one’s views on climate science.”