Debating Trump and Clinton on Climate Change Policy

Today’s debate is on Climate Change policy. In prior columns I debated Trump and Clinton on healthcare, taxes, and Social Security.

As explained in prior blogs, I’m running as a write-in candidate for President. I’m the only real write-in candidate since I’m the only such candidate who is engaging in the very arduous and expensive task of registering in the different states across the country. Only registered write-in candidates have their votes counted.

Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, and McMullin (in, I understand, about a fifth of the states) will have their names placed on the ballot by a printer. In contrast, my supporters will need to use one of their hands to write, in the spaces provided, my name on the ballot and that of my VP running mate — top UCLA economist Edward Leamer. (In Louisiana and Colorado we’re “on the ballot,” meaning a printer will be used to inscribe our names.)

In short, ours is a serious national campaign, which is why it’s been receiving major national and international media attention. And since I’m one of only six people who can legally be elected President in November, it’s important the public understand my positions — hence this debate.

Climate Change

The evidence for global warming and climate change is overwhelming. Here are some of the distressing facts provided by NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy and the scientific journal Nature.

Carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest level in 650,000 years. Humans have raised CO2 levels by 40 percent since the industrial revolution, with more than half of this increase occurring in the last four decades.

Since 1900, the planet’s average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. The years 2014 and 2015 were the hottest ever recorded, but 2016 may end up even hotter. July and August 2016 are the two hottest months recorded since they started recording temperature.

In 2012, the Arctic summer sea ice shrank to its lowest level on record. Greenland is experiencing accelerating ice loss. The melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet in conjunction with other ice melting could raise the sea level by six feet by the end of this century.

This would largely put New York, Boston, Miami, New Orleans and other major U.S. cities under water. We humans do not, of course, have a way to refrigerate the planet. Once it gets and stays hot enough, the ice melts and that’s it. We’ve reached a tipping points when the sea level will remain high. But this is just one of a number of potential tipping points. Others include the near total loss of the Amazon rain forest, faster onset of El Nino, and the reversal of the Gulf Stream and other circulatory ocean systems.

Donald Trump’s Position on Climate Change

Trump thinks that climate change is “bullshit” and “a hoax” or “a hoax, most of it.” He thinks that humans have played a very minor role in whatever climate change has occurred. He also wants to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. And he’s referred  to Clinton’s energy policy as “extreme, reckless anti-energy agenda … to appease radical donors (who) will destroy millions of jobs and force millions more into abject poverty.”

Trump would do well to sit down with the top climate-change scientists in the world and decide whether it is all “bullshit” or whether their scientific knowledge exceeds his. If Trump “alone” is our sole answer to fixing problems, he better understand what problems need to be fixed. If he gets climate-change wrong, which there is every reason to believe is the case, he will, if elected President, be playing dice not just with our country’s future, but with the future of mankind.

Telling his grandchildren and great grandchildren when they are swimming across town in Manhattan that, “Well, I got it wrong.” is no answer. Of course, Trump will likely be dead by the turn of the Century, despite his health being “extraordinary.” So he needs to ask his image in the mirror whether he is representing his immediate self interest or standing up for his grandchildren.

If scientists don’t impress him, Trump should jet over to Beijing with his kids and grandkids and spend a week or so breathing the air, which our embassy rates as routinely unhealthy or hazardous. Beijing’s has long spells of air quality that range from 5 to 10 times levels higher than the World Health Organization views as safe. Or Trump could just look at this picture posted by the New York Times before he decides we need to start reusing coal on a big-time basis.

Clinton’s believes the hard evidence and has a very aggressive policy toward climate change. The problem is she doesn’t have one policy. She has a slew that involve massive government micromanagement of the economy. Here’s how USA Today summarizes her climate policy.

“Clinton’s campaign website has more than 30 pages of proposals for fighting climate change. They include installing a half-billion solar panels by the end of her term and ensuring that every U.S. home is powered by renewable energy within 10 years.” Her website also calls for “Cut(ing) energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world. (And) Reducing American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.”

It all sounds great on paper. And President Obama provided a similar laundry list of promises for having the federal government miraculously achieve specific emission targets. But 8 years after he first took office, U.S. carbon emissions are down less than 1 percent. This rate of success is far too slow. Instead, it’s an admission of failure.

My biggest concern with Clinton’s plan is it a largely unenforceable or un-enactable (given her relationship with the Republicans) set of goals designed to appeal to her supporters and not unduly upset anyone by pronouncing these supposedly two dirty words, <em>carbon tax</em>. Indeed, Clinton has explicitly ruled out taxing carbon and you won’t find the words on her website.

But almost all environmental economists will tell you that immediately setting a very high carbon tax rate that declines through time (as explained below) is the only way to ensure we do what’s needed on CO2 emissions before it’s too late. It also has the advantage of getting the government out of micromanaging the private sector’s energy use, whether it be their building the Keystone pipeline or operating coal plants.

My Carbon Tax Plan
I’m calling for a $50 per ton tax on CO2 emissions. Energy sources, like shale oil or coal, which produced more C02 per unit of energy production, would, obviously, pay a higher tax rate per unit of energy produced. Having a high, but declining carbon tax rates gives dirty-energy producers the right incentives to burn dirty energy slowly.

As this paper, entitled “Will the Paris Accord Accelerate Climate Change,” which I just wrote with two Russian colleagues at Moscow’s Gaidar Institute, indicates, delaying carbon policy strongly incentivizes dirty-energy producers to use it or lose it. Indeed, the Paris Accord may, ironically, be worsening climate change. This is due to the well known, at least to economists, Green Paradox.

My view is that the government should tax, not regulate dirty energy usage wherever possible and let the private sector come up on its own with the best response to mitigating emissions in response to the tax. The short-run tax rate needs to be very high and fall substantially through time to give dirty energy suppliers real pause in conducting a fast, rather than slow burn. A slow burn is, of course, critical to reducing the prospects of tipping the climate. I also would strongly support significant direct government R&D investment and support for private-sector R&D investment to improve the efficiency of renewal energy sources.

I also advocate taxing imported goods on the basis of the carbon emitted in the course of their production to the extent that their countries of origin were not imposing the same carbon tax rate as our country.

As I’ve pointed out throughout my “It’s Our Children” campaign, expropriating our children and leaving them at risk is the hallmark of postwar U.S. economic, fiscal, immigration, educational, and, in many cases, nation security policy. This holds in full force when it comes to climate change. Donald Trump may not give a damn about his grandchildren or their planet. But I most certainly do.

It’s well beyond time for a very high and gradually declining carbon tax rate. If elected President, I’m confident I could get both sides to accept this new approach to a) helping save the planet from a very real and enormous threat and b) getting Uncle Sam out of household- and firm-decision making when it comes to using and supplying energy.

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