With climate change becoming a more urgent issue, advocates on both sides of the aisle have begun to push President Donald Trump’s administration to address the topic. In a talk on Wednesday, James Baker ’52, who served as United State Secretary of State under former President George H.W. Bush, said that the carbon tax is a tool that both parties can back in the fight for sound environmental policy.
“As with so many other challenges confronting our country today, this hyper-partisan divide is keeping us from going far,” said Baker. But he also noted that e has a plan.
Baker's initiative to combat climate change, also called the “carbon dividends plan,” consists of four pillars: The first is to impose a gradually increasing carbon tax; second, to return all proceeds from carbon dividends to American people on a monthly basis; third, to install border adjustments for the carbon content of imports and exports; and fourth, to decrease government regulation, such as through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Baker admitted that finding a solution to climate change is fraught with problems. However, he said that his new plan, which is based on conservative principles of free markets and limited government, would serve as a steady insurance policy for a sustainable planet.
Baker spoke to an audience of approximately 200 students and community members about his proposal.
Baker explained how he became involved with the carbon tax, as the issue is not normally considered a Republican priority. He said that he became more aware of the issue when the CEOs of major oil companies, such as Shell Oil Company and BP Global, warned him of the real threat that man-made carbon emissions could have on the climate.
“You have to remember, I am a conservative Republican from Texas,” Baker said by way of explanation.
He characterized the Kyoto Agreement, which former President George W. Bush rejected, as an unfair solution because it excluded other major carbon emitting countries such as China, India, and Brazil.
According to Baker, the carbon tax is the most efficient and sensibly priced way to combat climate change. More importantly, Baker said it could send a powerful market signal by promoting greater demand for more sustainable energy sources. The carbon dividend payments, which could amount to approximately $2,000 in the first year, would help working class families, he added.
This solution “showcases enduring conservative convictions and embodies the principles of free markets and limited government,” Baker said.
Baker’s proposed carbon tax has garnered support from many prominent conservatives, such as former U.S. Secretary of State George Pratt Shultz ’42, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Greg Mankiw ’80, and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson.
While speaking about his efforts in advocating for the carbon tax, Baker noted that the divide between Democrats and Republicans “is a recipe for the kind of gridlock and dysfunction that has shackled our country for recent years.” Ironically, he added that convincing Republicans in Congress about the carbon tax will be more difficult than convincing Democrats.
When asked about the likelihood that President Trump's administration will involve itself in climate change issues, Baker seemed hopeful. He mentioned that the White House is reviewing the carbon tax proposal at present. “We know that at least they are talking about it and considering these things,” he said.
Baker also noted that there is ongoing debate within the Trump administration about American involvement in the Paris Agreement, adding that Trump’s top aides are currently divided as to whether the United States should remove itself from the agreement. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced that the decision will be made after the G7 summit later this month.
Baker’s talk was held on May 10 at 4:30 p.m. in McCosh Hall 10. It was hosted by the Princeton Environmental Institute as this year’s Taplin Environmental Lecture.