We know we need to shift decisively from dirty fossil fuels to clean, safe energy, and that we've got the skills, knowledge, and people we need to do it. So the question is: What's the most effective way?
In his second inaugural address, "knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," Obama promised action on climate change. Because the current partisan divide in Congress dims prospects for effective legislation, the administration will likely turn to the Environmental Protection Agency to further regulate greenhouse emissions, extending regulation, for example, to existing coal-fired power plants.
In contrast to a regulatory approach, there's a direct, straightforward path based on market dynamics: a steadily-increasing tax on the CO2 content of coal, oil, and natural gas, as proposed, for example, by the nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby.
A significant but predicable fee for carbon can engage the power of the market to impel transition to clean energy. Further, returning revenue from the tax to the public equitably can compensate consumers, especially low-income households, for the rising costs associated with the tax.
As the carbon tax increases over time, we'd then see two benefits: stronger market pressure for clean energy development and distribution, and bigger cash returns to households, until cleaner, cheaper energy becomes the norm.
Coupled with a tariff on imports from other countries that don't also put a price on carbon, a carbon tax, even if enacted only in the United States, could achieve something unattainable through regulation here at home economic pressure to reduce greenhouse emissions elsewhere in the world.
Historically, Republicans have led the way for our environment. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, both during the Nixon administration, were key Republican achievements.
A strong stand by Republicans for the environment, right now, offers special opportunities as well as risks. The need is urgent, time is short, and the public expects action. The United States, as it has before, can lead the way to a better, more productive, more attractive future.
Why not seize the moment, stand up, and be counted for a strong solution?
Robert Speiser is a retired mathematician and educator, and a volunteer for the Citizens Climate Lobby. He lives in Salt Lake City.