Two business-friendly conservatives, both former senators, Trent Lott and John Breaux, have an op-ed in today’s New York Times announcing the formation of new group, Americans for Carbon Dividends. Now out of office, they recognize climate change as “one of the great challenges of our generation.” To counteract it they propose a bipartisan coalition to institute a carbon tax, with all the revenues returned to the public on per capita basis. The carbon price would cut emissions and spur the development of alternatives to fossil fuels; the rebates would redistribute income progressively and protect the incomes of the majority of the population.
What’s a progressive climate policy activist like myself to do?
Basically, I’d like to say, “Welcome to the party. Let’s sit down and work out the details.” While I believe resistance from capital is the underlying reason the last three decades of climate activism have been so dismal, I don’t see any purpose in drawing lines of ideological exclusion. On the contrary, if the deepest problem is the role of wealth (at risk from rapid shifts in energy prices) and not divergent philosophies as such, we should be happy to form broader coalitions so long as they don’t require unacceptable compromises.
(I don’t subscribe to the Marxist base-superstructure formulation as a matter of theoretical commitment, but I think it applies pretty well to the problem of climate change. There is no intrinsic conflict between political conservatism and climate action, except insofar as conservative ideology is a cover for the interests of owners of capital—which it typically is.)
I am in full agreement with the two fundamental principles laid down by Lott and Breaux, putting a price on carbon and rebating the revenues through equal dividends to all citizens. Of course, I differ on other matters: