Let’s Get SMART About Climate Policy


Photo credit: Diep Hoang

illustration by Diep Hoang

Robyn Rihanna Fenty, aka Rihanna, turned 32 this year, and I know what you’re thinking: “What does the world’s richest female musician have to do with climate change?” Well, she wasn’t the only thing that turned 32 this year. In 1988, James Hansen, a former NASA scientist, sounded the first alarm about climate change. He told Congress with “99% confidence” that human activity had caused a sharp rise in temperatures, yet over three decades later, greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed. If we’ve known for so long, why have we done so little to take action? It’s easy to say that it’s just the “other side’s fault,” but that wouldn’t be quite fair.

While recent polling indicates that climate action is indeed a hyper-partisan issue, with 39% of Republicans saying we should do more to reduce climate change compared to 90% of Democrats, there is still a broad consensus among two-thirds of U.S. adults (67%) that we should. Climate policy is no exception to the polarization we see and often hear about, but much of it is exaggerated. The headlines and extreme rhetoric on both sides mislead us to forget that more than three-quarters of Americans (77%) agree that we should transition away from fossil fuels. The vast majority of those on the left (90%) and the right (67%) have more in common than we are led to believe, which leads us back to the question of why, then, we have failed to achieve any progress.

My theory is that it is rooted in the way we talk about climate change and the way we debate its solutions. The “doom and gloom” discourse that we currently have around climate change scares people into apathy and indifference. Our greatest obstacle right now is the fact that far too many of us treat the “perfect” as the enemy of the “good.” We need to focus more on Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) solutions as opposed to lofty targets modeled after the Green New Deal. Over 80% of the energy used to heat our homes and drive our cars comes from fossil fuels. We just cannot feasibly decarbonize our economy by 2030 as it suggests. Doing so would require expensive regulations that would leave behind over a million Americans working in fossil fuels.

Fortunately, there are less disruptive ways of lowering carbon emissions and creating green jobs. Here are just a few as a start:

Cut Fossil Fuel Subsidies

We must cut fossil fuel subsidies and aggressively expand the funds directed at renewables. Doing so would mean we can create a fairer free market and help transition ourselves toward a greener economy.

Expand Nuclear Energy

Regulations and subsidies for only solar and wind pidgin hold the market and force a rigid model of renewable energy; therefore, we should also invest heavily in nuclear energy, a non-carbon energy source that is already proven to be technologically feasible and scalable. Countries like Sweden and France get 40% and 75% of their electricity from nuclear power.

Grow Public Transit

Motorists are our largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce emissions from transportation, we need to redirect federal spending to promote a cleaner, more accessible public transportation system.

Price Carbon

By putting a price on carbon, we can encourage businesses and consumers to look for ways to cut their fossil-fuel energy costs. With cap and trade, we can reduce the demand for fossil fuels without the government deciding how to achieve that reduction.

These smart market-based approaches to controlling fossil fuel pollution incentivize the conservation of energy and adoption of green technologies — without forcing a one-size-fits-all way to do so. They’re the solutions that most experts prefer because unlike the Green New Deal, they’re not non-starters. Unless we do something now, climate change will continue to be unforgiving. Therefore we have a responsibility to offer up solutions that can be passed and enacted today, not after a “political revolution.”