The Harvard Republican Club has joined forces with over 30 college political groups across the country to advocate for a climate change policy that would place a tax on carbon emissions while also reducing environmental regulations.
The new group, known as Students for Carbon Dividends, endorses the so-called Baker-Shultz plan, named after two of its signatories, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz. The Harvard College Democrats and Harvard College Conservation Society have also joined the initiative; but the Republican Club has been more heavily involved, with the club’s president, Kiera E. O’Brien ’20, serving as vice president of the new coalition.
The Baker-Shultz plan—yet to be formally proposed as a piece of legislation in Congress—suggests gradually increasing the carbon tax, with all revenue returned to American families via a monthly rebate.
O’Brien said she hopes combined student advocacy efforts from both sides of the aisle will encourage Congress to implement the plan.
“Climate change doesn’t have to be a partisan issue,” O’Brien said.
The new student coalition is composed mostly of Republican clubs, an unusual development given the GOP’s history with environmental regulation. Students for Carbon Dividends represents the first time a league of College Republican organizations has ever pushed for a policy intended explicitly to combat climate change.
A carbon tax could raise a substantial amount of tax revenue, while also reducing carbon emissions, according to independent analyses. A tax of $25 per ton of carbon pollution, for example, would raise about $1 trillion over 10 years while preventing over 12 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2030, according to Resources for the Future, an independent research organization based in Washington D.C.
The Baker-Shultz plan has also found support among large corporations like ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.
“I think a lot of corporations are sympathetic to this because they recognize that climate change is real, and they want a solution that’s the least invasive for their business model and for markets in general,” said Economics Professor N. Gregory Mankiw, a co-author of the Baker-Shultz proposal.
Mankiw, who served a chairman of the Council of Economics Advisors under President George W. Bush, said he believes what he called the Trump administration’s inaction on environmental policy stems from a lack of vocal public support for a climate change solution.
“Right now, climate change is not high up on their agenda,” he said, referring to the Trump administration. “Rarely does change come from the very top. This kind of change is going to have to come from the bottom. So I think these grassroots kinds of organizations, whether they’re at colleges or local communities, are tremendously important.”
Even as an increasing number of conservative academics and former Republican statesmen speak out to support the carbon tax scheme, the proposal has fallen on deaf ears among certain Republican congressmen and senators. Economics professor Martin L. Weitzman said he thinks Republican opposition stems largely from a hostility towards any and all tax hikes.
“People, especially Republican politicians, hate the idea of any new taxes even if the revenues are reasonably rebated in some way or another,” Weitzman said.
In the midst of a complete standstill at the federal level, numerous states have attempted to craft their own climate policies. A bill currently working its way through the Massachusetts State House imposes a $20 per ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions that increases to $40 per ton over four years.
Stock said that, though it might appear that a national carbon tax is still far away, public opinion—and federal policy—can shift quickly.
“Years ago, it just would have been preposterous to say we’re going to have gay marriage nationally,” Stock said. “But what changed is that an entire generation...just said, ‘No, what’s preposterous about that?’”
“And then the laws, and our reading of the laws, changed with that,” he added.
O’Brien said Students for Carbon Dividends hopes to recruit more organizations beyond its founding groups. After that, the coalition plans to hold events to raise awareness for its cause.
“Young conservatives are here, and we’re ready to take action on climate change,” O’Brien said.
—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.
—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.
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