It is nice to see that more Republicans have accepted the reality of climate change, and are calling for action. Add George Shultz’s name to the list of those who believe that something has to be done. After showing what the current climate trends are, and showing why they should alarm us, Shultz–who along with Henry Kissinger and James Baker can lay claim to being the best secretary of state in my lifetime–tells us how Ronald Reagan would deal with the climate change issue:
I am also impressed by an experience I had in the mid-1980s. Many scientists thought the ozone layer was shrinking. There were doubters, but everyone agreed that if it happened, the result would be a catastrophe. Under these circumstances, President Ronald Reagan thought it best not to argue too much with the doubters but include them in the provision of an insurance policy. With the very real potential for serious harm, U.S. industry turned on its entrepreneurial juices, and the Du Pont companydeveloped a set of replacements for the chemicals implicated in the problem along a reasonable time frame and at a reasonable cost. It came up with something that could be done then — not some aspirational plan for 2050. Action is better than aspiration. As matters turned out, the action worked and became the basis for the Montreal Protocol, widely regarded as the world’s most successful environmental treaty. In retrospect, the scientists who were worried were right, and the Montreal Protocol came along in the nick of time. Reagan called it a “magnificent achievement.”
We all know there are those who have doubts about the problems presented by climate change. But if these doubters are wrong, the evidence is clear that the consequences, while varied, will be mostly bad, some catastrophic. So why don’t we follow Reagan’s example and take out an insurance policy?
First, let’s have significant and sustained support for energy research and development. More of that is going on right now than in any previous period. The costs to the federal budget are small — little more than a rounding error — and a serious government effort would attract private capital from investors who want to know what’s new and want to contribute. These efforts are producing results. For example, we can now produce electricity from the wind and the sun at close to the same price we pay for electricity from other sources, and we may soon know how to do cost-effective large-scale storage of electricity, thus greatly reducing the intermittency problems of solar and wind and producing a hedge against the great vulnerability of our power grid.
Second, let’s level the playing field for competing sources of energy so that costs imposed on the community are borne by the sources of energy that create them, most particularly carbon dioxide. A carbon tax, starting small and escalating to a significant level on a legislated schedule, would do the trick. I would make it revenue-neutral, returning all net funds generated to the taxpayers so that no fiscal drag results and the revenue would not be available for politicians to spend on pet projects.
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So that is my proposal. Before you get mugged by reality, take out an insurance policy. It’s the Reagan way.