WASHINGTON—Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz called for action on climate change March 8, saying that the United States should end energy subsidies and introduce a carbon tax.
“The globe is warming, and we should be taking steps to do something about that,” Shultz said at a forum on Capitol Hill hosted by the nongovernmental organization Partnership for a Secure America (PSA).
According to Shultz, carbon is a problem and must be reduced; furthermore, “clean energy” should be embraced.
“If we can capitalize on these opportunities, we will have a much better energy future, from the standpoint of our national defense, our national economy, and our national environment including our climate,” he said.
A former professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Chicago, Shultz is one of only two people that has held four United States Cabinet positions, including director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Nixon administration and secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan.
Shultz outlined a two-pronged action plan to address U.S. energy efficiency. One aspect is to provide “sustained support for research and development,” and the other is to “create a level playing field” in the energy market.
“We want all forms of energy to bear their full cost so that they can compete in the marketplace properly,” Shultz said.
Shultz recommended a revenue-neutral carbon tax, saying that he preferrs a tax over alternative plans like “cap and trade.”
“It is an old fashioned, straightforward way,” he added.
Carbon tax legislation should start small and escalate over time, but revenue raised should be neutral, according to Shultz.
“I want this to be justified solely and only, as a way of leveling the playing field,” he said, “I don’t want it to be seen as a way of raising money for federal operations.”
Funds should be managed by an existing bureaucracy in a transparent and accountable way, and then paid out in the form of “a check … a carbon dividend,” he said.
When asked about energy subsidies Shultz’s answer was succinct: “I would wipe them out.”
President Barack Obama has proposed cutting fossil fuel subsidies by up to $4 billion, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has twice sponsored a bill to cut $2.4 billion from subsidies to big oil companies, but to no avail. Fossil fuel subsidies are estimated to cost American taxpayers $158 billion over the next 10 years, according to a report from Taxpayers For Common Sense titled, “Green Scissors 2012: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending“.
Shultz, who holds prominent positions in energy efficiency at Stanford University and in energy policy at MIT, dismissed climate skeptics. He pointed to the shrinking Arctic ice cap and rising temperatures globally.
“People are saying they don’t like the science, but I am saying, ‘Nevermind the science, just use your eyes,'” he said. “A new ocean is being created—that is not science, that is plain observation.”
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as those in the rest of the world, and Arctic ice is getting thinner and crumbling.
“If you wait until you are boiling, you may have missed your moment,” Shultz warned.
PSA Executive Director Andrew Semmel said that climate change has become a national security issue.
“The State Department, defense, and the National Intelligence Council have elevated this issue as a high priority,” he said at the Capitol Hill event.
The bipartisan think tank PSA was founded to address national security and foreign policy challenges. The organization released a letter last month calling for action on climate change. A group of 38 prominent Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and high-level security officials signed the letter.
Tom Ridge, secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, said that the national security community is worried about the fallout from climate change, which some described as “a threat multiplier.”
“They’re not talking about whether or not it is occurring—it is! They’re talking about addressing the problem and protecting the American people. It’s time Washington does the same,” he said in a statement.