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College Republicans launch climate coalition, urge Congress to take action

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Can students shake-up environmental debate, and push proposal for a carbon marketplace?


U.S. students have recently become more active and outspoken in the political arena. This morning, a new group of young Americans has taken up the cause of carbon mitigation and climate change: Republican groups on college campuses.

The Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD), a coalition of student groups launched earlier today, features student voices from across the partisan spectrum, including 23 College Republican clubs, 6 Democratic clubs, and 5 environmental groups from schools across the country. The inclusion of Republican voices in the climate-change discussion offers some hope of future bipartisan cooperation on an issue that currently divides most lawmakers along party lines.

This new coalition believes they have unique credibility to demand action on the issue.

“We will articulate to our nation’s decision makers that we, the generation most affected by the threat of climate instability, want this concrete, effective, and sensible climate solution,“ S4CD said in a release.

The group is advocating what’s known as the Baker-Shultz Plan, a comprehensive proposal to create a gradually rising, and revenue-neutral, carbon tax that would create dividend payments shared by all Americans. The plan would include a tax on carbon emissions, starting at something like $40 a ton, that would gradually rise and encourage companies to switch to cleaner, renewable energy sources. The plan is named after James A. Baker III, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and George Shultz, a prominent cabinet member in three Republican administrations.

“S4CD makes clear to our fellow young Republicans that we no longer need to choose between party orthodoxy and the mounting risks facing our planet,” said Kiera O’Brien (Harvard College ’20), VP of S4CD and President of the Harvard Republican Club, in a statement. “The Baker-Shultz Plan is a prudent climate solution that embodies the conservative principles of free markets and limited government.”

This student coalition offers another example of the changing face of climate leadership in the United States. Many local leaders, like mayors, have taken various actions in addition to, or in opposition of, the Trump administration, such as staying in the Paris Accords, promoting renewable power, and pushing for carbon-free streets.

Parts of the Baker-Schultz plan clash with proposals some liberals advocate, such as repealing many Obama-era pollution regulations such as the Clean Power Plan. But the plan’s marketplace, or tax-based, approach is something that some state and city politicians embrace. Leaders in Northeastern and Northwestern states, including New York and Washington, have been working on creating a carbon marketplace. And congestion pricing, another market incentive, has been proposed for New York City and other bigger cities. The student proposal suggests a similar, market-based solution to the issue.

S4CD plans to expand throughout the year, noting in a press release that it aims to sign up tens of thousands of student supporters and climate activists at campuses across the country. The group also plans to host events on campus and pressure politicians to support the plan. It’s another example of young political leadership, including other students activists working on a national climate change march, trying to break through gridlock and business as usual.