Green Day: Part II

In what can only be described as a modern-day media miracle, on June 9 the Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co. brought on former Reagan administration adviser Martin Feldstein to argue in favor of a federal revenue-neutral carbon tax–and host Stuart Varney, surprisingly, didn’t bury the idea.

Yes, the segment was laced with potshots against President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Yes, neither Feldstein nor Varney specifically addressed the climate crisis. However, there was a time when policies to reduce carbon pollution would be assailed in right-wing media circles. Something has changed. Between Republican economist Irwin Stelzer’s pro-carbon-tax pieces in the Weekly Standard and National Review and the right-wing American Enterprise Institute signaling openness to carbon pricing, one wonders if the age of climate denial is indeed coming to an end on the right, if conservatives are finally willing to come to the table to discuss policies to reduce carbon pollution.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to all conservatives, as the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh observes:

Chris Christie is known as a combative, take-no-guff governor who, when asked a pointed or critical query, often scolds or browbeats his questioner.

That’s not just a matter of manner. It’s also a habit of mind. Or, to put it another way, Christie is not just an occasional bully. He’s also a know-it-all, something he demonstrated on Tuesday during an appearance at the New England Council’s Politics & Eggs public affairs forum.

As he tested the cool and overcrowded presidential waters, the New Jersey governor didn’t content himself with simply outlining his stands and explaining his reasoning. Like the self-styled expert at the end of the bar, he suggested that contrary opinions were wrong-headed or ridiculous.

Take global warming. Christie acknowledges that climate change is real, and that human activity contributes to it. But when I asked if he supported a tax on carbon emissions, Christie said no, declaring that “a carbon tax is just another excuse by folks who like to tax.”

Actually, plenty of well-known conservatives support a carbon tax, particularly if it is offset by reductions in other taxes. That list includes economists Greg Mankiw, who chaired George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office; and Arthur Laffer, father of supply-side economics. So, too, does former Secretary of State George Shultz. That’s hardly a group of taxaholics.

Christie—like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a known acolyte of right-wing cult leader David Koch—may be in denial about the merits of pricing carbon, but it’s good to see that other prominent figures on the right are not. The dream of a bipartisan response to the climate crisis has been deferred for nearly three decades by right-wing merchants of doubt. Yet there are clear signs that this dream is not dead—and that hope remains alive.

UPDATE: Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) discuss federal revenue-neutral carbon-tax legislation–and fend off attacks from climate-change deniers–at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., June 10, 2015.

SECOND UPDATE: At her campaign rally in New York, Hillary Clinton mocks Republicans for failing to acknowledge that the climate crisis is “one of the defining threats of our time.”

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.