Column: Conservative solutions to climate change

Published May 31, 2013

Editor's note: A Yale University student from Miami and a fellow classmate have won the inaugural writing competition sponsored by the Energy & Enterprise Initiative founded by former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Their winning essay, written in the form of a letter to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is in print for the first time here.

How Conservatives can Take Charge of Climate Change: A letter to Senator Marco Rubio

Dear Senator Rubio,

To many young conservatives like us, it seems that our politics has ridden roughshod all over our ideals. For no issue is this truer than climate change. We are counting on leaders like you to show the country that conservatives have responsible, pro-growth solutions to pressing challenges that young people care about. There is a generation of fiscally conservative Millennials who neither wish to inherit crushing debt nor an abused environment. You are one of the few conservative leaders capable of leading on this issue.

By leading on prudent climate solutions, we can defend and strengthen the free-market system that has produced so much prosperity for America and the world. We can reinvigorate the principle of personal responsibility that our communities require to thrive. And we can bolster America's energy security.

Conservatives have rightly opposed many of the climate change proposals offered by the Left. But standing against bad policy does not require hiding from good science. We can't govern responsibly by belittling America's National Academy of Sciences (and all the other science academies on the planet). We can only govern responsibly by confronting the reality that we will be forced to spend big money dealing with the effects of climate change — money that won't be invested in our communities, our schools, or our private enterprises.

Let's show the country that conservative ideas are the answer to the climate challenge. We should begin by fixing the energy market to align with principles of free enterprise.

In the past, fossil fuel producers received big subsidies from the federal government because they were America's only source for the quantities of energy we needed to prosper. But by the 1960s, we began to discover new sources of energy, including nuclear, wind and solar. Today, we have more options for energy than ever before, and it's time to give our innovators a fair shot at competing. That means it's time to end the subsidies we dole out to fossil-fuel producers. If we want the free market to work effectively, we can't handicap it by tilting energy prices in favor of one segment of the industry. We aren't India or Russia or China, so it's time to stop acting like them by rigging the energy marketplace.

We also need to reinvigorate the principle of personal responsibility. Improving our country, just like improving ourselves, means each and every day striving to hold ourselves to ever increasing standards of personal responsibility. When the free market fails to hold individuals and corporations accountable for the price of their actions, there is a need for government. We need to work to improve the shortcomings of the free market in order to make it more effective and more resilient.

Each time we burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases, we do not account for our small contribution to climate change. One person's CO2 footprint is not going to cause climate change, but impacts add up quickly. This isn't fair and needs to be fixed. How? We slash the income tax and replace it with a tax on greenhouse gases. Income tax reduces the incentive to work. Instead of punishing hard work, the tax code could help to mitigate climate change by attaching some of the costs of the droughts, rising sea levels and extreme weather to all the small actions that are cumulatively responsible for those impacts. Over time, replacing income taxes with a tax on greenhouse gases will drive innovation across the energy industry, help us clean up our air, and empower Americans with more choice over how they spend what they earn.

A tax on carbon would also increase our energy security. Innovation in clean coal, natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric energy would all benefit our energy security through diversifying and domesticating our supply. America's unmatched ability to invent new technology may soon render renewable energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels. Before that happens, however, if the climate impacts from procuring and burning fossil fuels are encapsulated in a tax, much of the political fervor surrounding use of our proven reserves will dissipate. Diversifying our energy supply, relying less on foreign oil, and neutralizing objections to job-creating projects like Keystone will all serve to improve our energy security.

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In conservatism we find the right philosophy and tools with which to understand and address climate change. The free market and personal responsibility have served us well throughout our history and are the best solutions for dealing with climate change and for ensuring an energy-secure America. It's time to reorient our politics to better reflect conservative political philosophy. It's time to face up to the fact that young conservatives want to tackle climate change. And, above all, it's time to renounce skepticism, stand up for solutions and prove to America that our conservative leaders are can take on climate change.


Rafael Fernandez and Taylor Gregoire-Wright

Rafael Fernandez, far left, of Miami and Taylor Gregoire-Wright of Guilford, Conn., are winners of the 2013 Energy and Enterprise Initiative Thought Leaders Competition.