Political polarization of climate change is on the rise

It's time to find a good way to reconsider whether carbon cap and trade would eliminate jobs

Charlie Neibergall / AP
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to local residents during a breakfast meeting at a Pizza Ranch restaurant, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, in Ames, Iowa. Pawlenty recently participated in a debate about jobs and the clean energy industry.

Samuel Clemens published under the pen name of Mark Twain. If Al Gore had followed this strategy for "Inconvenient Truth" would we now have passed more aggressive Federal legislation for slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions? I do not want to put a heavy trip on the Vice President but the fact remains that there has been a recent divergence between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of climate change and reasonable people can ask "why"?

Consider this quote from a recent Republican Presidential Debate from Gov. Tim Pawlenty;

"Chris: in January you told me that you signed a bill to promote renewable energy sources, but, and here’s the quote, we never did sign a bill relating to cap and trade in 2007 the bill you signed required a task force to recommend how the state could adopt cap and trade in 2008, you said I support a reasonable cap and trade system at the federal level. You made this ad for the Environmental Defense Action Fund. Let's watch.

“If we act now, we can create thousands of new jobs in clean energy industries, before our overseas competitors beat us to it. Cap greenhouse gas pollution, now.”

Chris: Governor, I told you it was going to be a problem for you down the line. You now say it was a dumb mistake. Weren't you far more committed to cap and trade over those years than you now let on?

Gov Pawlenty: What I said that day and many other times is this we did consider in signing the law in Minnesota that would study cap and trade. We didn't impose it. We signed up to review it, study, join with other states to look at it and we did. What i concluded subsequently is it is really a bad idea. Not in the last six months. I sent a letter congress I think about two years ago. And other times have said, I was wrong, I was a mistake and I’m sorry. It is ham fisted, it is going to be harmful to the economy. Everybody here and anybody else running for president, if you have -- or considering running for president, if you've got an executive position and you have been in the battle, you are going to have battle scars or clunkers in your record, we all do. And that’s one of mine. I just admit. I don't try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away, I’m just telling you, I made a mistake. I look the American people in the eye and say i made a mistake. Nobody is perfect. If anybody is perfect come on up here and stand by this podium because we would like that person to be running for president."

This looks like a "litmus test" to me. Republicans define themselves by opposing what their opponents support.

Supporters of cap & trade (and that includes myself and 98% of economists) need to think through what would be a valid "natural experiment" for testing whether those who claim that carbon cap & trade will be a jobs killer are correct. Economists have written technical articles on this subject and I believe that the public needs to think about these studies. As this recession ends, it is time to reopen this subject again.

For some reading; I suggest my paper with Erin Mansur; and Olivier Deschenes's paper.

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