Last week, Senate Democrats invited the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency for Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan to testify on the climate crisis. They all agreed: global warming is real, humans are causing it, and policymakers have a responsibility to act.
The idea behind the hearing seemed reasonable: if congressional Republicans refuse to listen to scientists when it comes to climate science, maybe they’ll consider warnings from veterans of Republican administrations. It was a noble effort, but it didn’t work – GOP senators dismissed the former EPA chiefs’ remarks.
But hope springs eternal? Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a lifelong Republican and veteran of the Bush/Cheney team, wrote a New York Times op-ed, which ran yesterday, arguing that policymakers are facing a genuine crisis, on par with the one that threatened the global economy in 2008.
This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.
Paulson, who was also the CEO of Goldman Sachs, proposed a specific solution: a carbon tax, which he believes will use market incentives to boost energy alternatives.
Anticipating howls from his allies, Paulson said a carbon tax will actually reduce the role of government in the long term, because on our current trajectory, it will require massive government efforts and expenditures to respond to disasters caused by the climate crisis.
Kudos to Paulson for a valiant effort. The next question, however, is not whether congressional Republicans will consider his wise perspective, but rather, how quickly lawmakers from his party will ignore his advice.
Paul Krugman, who endorses Paulson’s policy prescription, responded:
[W]hat’s sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he’s just delusional.
The public believes in climate change and supports government action. The White House believes in climate change and supports government action. Republicans outside of Congress believe in climate change and support government action.
But on Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers not only reject the evidence, they’re considering another government-shutdown plan in the hopes of blocking Clean Air Act regulations.
It’s tempting to think Paulson and the EPA chiefs from the Reagan, Nixon, and Bush administrations have their work cut out for them, but in reality, it’s hard to imagine anything changing congressional Republicans’ minds, unless voters start voting them out of office.