Happy Earth Day: How To Use Capitalism To Bring Us Abundant, Cheap And Emission-Free Energy
|In this composite image provided by NASA, five|
frames show the International Space Station
in silhouette. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/
NASA via Getty Images)
Many progressives consider climate change an existential threat to humanity and the environment. They have been stymied by proposing a solution that would impose punitive costs on, well, voters ... such as a carbon tax. As polling by Pew consistently shows, climate change continually ranks near the bottom of voter concerns. The economy ranks at the top. Republicans, of course, have been fiercely resistant to imposing the economically punitive measures many progressives endorse. Deadlock.
Over many years of this partisan impasse the magic of free markets, behind the scenes, has begun to change the political calculus. Emerging technologies are reducing energy costs dramatically, using emission-free energy sources such as sunshine and wind. In recently working on a research project funded by the Grace Richardson Foundation I encountered compelling evidence that the emergence of inexpensive, emission-free, energy is fast approaching.
There are opportunities to accelerate these good things, not by subsidies, through targeted tax rate cuts and removal of arbitrary regulatory barriers. Follow along.
We confront the possibility of energy and climate policy becoming what academics call a “valence” (consensus) rather than a "values" (polarizing) issue. Conservatives do not champion climate change. We are unpersuaded that it threatens to be as catastrophic as many progressives believe. We also are unpersuaded that the proposed costs of addressing it, which are excruciating, pass a cost-benefit analysis.
But we are not “deniers.” It would be reckless to dismiss the possibility that climate change could have catastrophic consequences. Conservatives aren't reckless.
Dr. Joseph Romm, formerly acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy for the U.S. Department of Energy, now a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, recently published an impressive book written for the intelligent layman. It lucidly presents the case both for deep concern and and optimism): Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.As described by the publisher, Oxford University Press:
This book offers the most up-to-date examination of climate change’s foundational science, its implications for our future, and the core clean energy solutions.
But he counsels hope, and action, not despair. He lucidly analyzes the many emerging technologies that could (and already are beginning to) reduce the emission of CO2.
Romm provides a lay reader a consistently fascinating guide, qualifying some, and disqualifying other, technologies. He observes:
What evidence is there that we might be reaching an inflection point in developing emission-free energy sources cheaper than fossil-fuels? The evidence is abundant. Futurist Ramez Naam blogging in Scientific American, on March 16, 2011:
If similar dynamics worked in solar power technology, then we would eventually have the solar equivalent of an iPhone – incredibly cheap, mass distributed energy technology that was many times more effective than the giant and centralized technologies it was born from.
These developments have not been lost upon advocates for free market policy. Among the leading lights of the right are Tea Party Patriots board member and co-founder Debbie Dooley, head of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, and entrepreneur Jay Faison, founder and CEO of Clear Path Foundation. Faison has committed $175 million of his own money to persuade Republicans to take climate change seriously and to use free market policies to end it.
There has been encouraging openness within The American Spectator and a blog on his own site by its senior editor Quin Hillyer, entitled Supply-Side Clean Energy. There has been consistent effort by Grace Richardson Foundation president Rod Richardson, a thought leader in applying free market principles in this sector, to forge coalition between the right and the left.
There is still much to be done. Solar and wind power, while growing by leaps and bounds, now make up a tiny fraction of our energy supply. There is good reason to accelerate the process of the development and adoption of cheap, emission-free, energy by cutting tax rates. Doing so would deliver the goods, goods held dear by Republicans – lower cost energy for consumers – and by Democrats – reducing, and then eliminating, carbon dioxide emissions.
Using conservative means to advance progressive ends isn’t really so odd. (Communism and socialism struggled for a century materially to improve the lot of working people. Using romantic, rather than realistic, means they failed in a big way.) China, adopting free market policies (euphemistically called “socialism with Chinese characteristics") under the great supply-sider Deng Xiaoping and his successors brought almost a billion people out of subsistence and into affluence so quickly that Karl Marx spins in his grave. When Russia adopted a low-rate flat tax its economy took off like a rocket. (Bernie Sanders, take note!)
I previously cited here the moving words of NASA climatologist and retired astronaut Dr. Piers J. Sellers from his Jan. 16, 2016 piece on climate change in The New York Times Sunday Review:
Do you wish your electricity bills, or CO2 emissions, or both, to go down? Then it makes compelling sense to reduce marginal tax rates on, and to eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers. Let the free market work its magic to bring on inexpensive, emission-free, energy.
Capitalism to the rescue, Happy Earth Day to you!
Ralph Benko is senior advisor, economics, to American Principles in Action's Gold Standard 2012 Initiative, and a contributor to the ARRA News Service. Founder of The Prosperity Caucus, he was a member of the Jack Kemp supply-side team, served in an unrelated area as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House. The article which first appeared in Forbes.
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