Hiram College

Written by Jory Gomes ’18

On June 1st, 2017 the federal government announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement—an international agreement aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change and carbon pollution on the Earth. As of December 6th, 2017, the United States of America is the only country to not be included on the agreement as former non-signees Nicaragua and Syria have officially signed on to the agreement. To make sense of this decision, and to identify and analyze possible policy solutions to climate change other than international agreements, Hiram College’s Garfield Center for Public Leadership and The Garfield Institute hosted a panel discussion with notable voices in climate change policy. Experts Jonathan H. Adler, the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University, and Jerome Taylor, the President of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian public policy think tank in Washington D.C., were the speakers. On November 13th, 2017 Adler and Taylor came to Hiram, and outlined their case for what the United States should do now that it has left the Paris Climate Agreement.

Adler, a political conservative presented his view that technological innovation incentives were the best way to slow, and eventually cease, the effects of carbon pollution on climate change. Market-based technological incentives, in his argument, would give developers, tech companies, as well as national and global businesses, a reason to invest in carbon-reduction technology and get businesses to buy-in to the idea that combating climate change could be good for business. His argument makes sense in traditional conservative thinking, though current conservatism espouses the belief that climate change policy anywhere is bad for business—this current line of thinking could make Adler’s policy hard for Republican politicians to support according to Taylor.

Taylor, the libertarian in the room, stated that he saw some merit in Adler’s proposal, but that a carbon tax would ultimately be the most helpful. Taylor argued that taxing the top 1500 carbon polluters in the US, like energy companies, by the amount of carbon they expel into the atmosphere would incentivize businesses to develop cleaner energy technology. From a person who’s political beliefs stand upon the ground that the government should intervene as little as possible, it is significant that this is his proposal for combating climate change. Though he sees why it might be hard to convince current Republican politicians to support this plan, he believes that with the right leadership, it can be done.

When asked to reflect on the seminar, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Debbie Kasper, Ph.D., said that she enjoyed the seminar because it showed students that, even among conservatives, who have traditionally denied climate change, it is possible to have meaningful, civil discussion that doesn’t center around the validity of climate change or whether it is human-caused or not. She called it “refreshing” to see civilized, solution-based debate, especially when taking into consideration that for much of his life, Taylor was a climate-change skeptic. She said “ It’s so important to see that changing long-ingrained patterns of thought is possible. We should all be open to changing our thinking in light of new information, and college should be training ground for that!” When asked about her own thoughts regarding climate change policy and international agreements, Kasper said that “Climate change, like air, water, and most socio-environmental problems, does not recognize the borders that humans invent to carve up their social worlds. As an unfolding process that’s going to affect everybody, albeit unequally, we all need to begin thinking about what kinds of cooperative means we can use and/or create to address it together…as opposed to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ approach that currently prevails.” She also stated, “There is no one solution, or silver bullet, to such a long-term multi-faceted problem. However, to get quick results, I agree with the speakers that a carbon tax makes the most sense and is the most expedient way to get actors to change their behavior. In addition, a loud unified public voice capable of influencing politicians and politics would get significant results in the near term.”

Given the reality that the Trump administration has decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, the federal government is very unlikely to give guidance on how to combat climate change. To make a Sorkinesque reference from the West Wing, laws are made by those who show up. Yes, it’s important to turn the lights off, unplug that extension cord when you aren’t using it, and do the small things that help reduce personal carbon footprints, but there is something bigger to work towards too. Adler and Taylor are busy working to advance their proposals, so whether you agree with their proposals or not, make sure your voice is heard. Call or email your local, state, and federal representatives or sign a petition, just find some way to make your voice heard, because our environment depends on it.