In the US, we currently don’t pay a price for fossil fuels that reflect their true cost. There is no cost directly paid by energy producers or consumers for the carbon pollution emitted when fossil fuels are burned. This has to change in the form of either a carbon tax, or a similar proposal referred to as “cap-and-trade”, both of which have the effect of using free market forces to provide incentives for energy consumers to migrate toward low/no-carbon energy sources.  (What is a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system?)

Fortunately, our government has successfully lead past efforts to solve big, global environmental problems, and in fact, those solutions have been both bipartisan and based on conservative, free-market principles. In 1970, President Nixon (R) established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and subsequently passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to address growing concerns about water and air pollution. In 1988, President Reagan (R) championed and signed into law global limitations on the use of ozone-depleting gases.  Just recently, that law has resulted in the measurements showing the ozone layer is recovering. In 1990, under the first President Bush (R), the US acid rain cap-and-trade program was passed into law, and when implementation began in 1995, it not only worked quickly effectively to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions which cause acid rain, but also cost just 1/6th the amount that opponents had predicted. All of these environmental problems were solved with government leadership and through creative, innovative market solutions. 

As recently as 2008, taking action on climate change had both bipartisan congressional support and strong public support (71%). When Sen. John McCain (R) ran for president in 2008, the Republican Party platform included support for cap-and-trade carbon legislation. By 2012, that public support had dropped to 47% primarily due to a lot of misinformation put out by the fossil fuel industry to confuse people about the scientific facts, and thereby delay action. As of today, there aren’t enough votes in Congress to pass a carbon tax or cap & trade legislation. 

Climate change is a problem that requires government leadership. We can’t solve this alone as individual citizens. Specifically, it requires US leadership so that when the US meets with other nations, we have already passed legislation that shows we are serious about addressing the crisis.