“We’ve Done This Before, And We Can Do It Again” — S4CD’s Alex Posner on Bipartisan Climate Action
“Bipartisanship isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity… Any hope of mounting an effective climate response on the potential of sustained one-party rule of Washington is farfetched and unrealistic, so we need solutions that can pass and last.”
That’s Alex Posner, the president and co-founder of the activist group Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD). S4CD is a bipartisan coalition of students at colleges and universities across the country promoting a carbon dividend policy.
Posner became interested in climate policy while attending Yale. Though he was a history major, Posner took classes about climate science and policy. In his words, “understanding energy and climate is a great way to understand the history and one’s place in history.” He later interned in Washington, DC with the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), a nonprofit pushing for a carbon pricing plan. Posner also had the opportunity to connect with students from other campuses, finding that “a lot of people are interested in climate solutions that can actually pass and work”, from both sides of the political spectrum.
Posner noted that, among young people, the overwhelming mindset is “[W]e need to find solutions” regardless of political beliefs. Unfortunately, he also noted that “The number of people who care about the issue and want to do something about it far outpace the number who actually are connected with opportunities to fight it.”
These experiences were major influences on his later environmental activism, as he came away from them believing that “there is no better plan to fill the promise of bipartisanship, harness market forces, and meet the issue at scale than carbon dividends”.
Inspired by his experiences and eager to connect young people with climate activist efforts, Posner co-founded S4CD in spring 2018. It launched with a bipartisan coalition of over 100 student organizations across the United States (over 50 liberal organizations and over 50 conservative organizations) and focused on reaching out to liberal and conservative college students to bring about climate solutions. It was the first time that a group of college Republicans had endorsed a national climate solution.
Since then, S4CD has been making waves in environmental activism, with several large successes under their belts. One such success is the Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends. The Economists’ Statement came about due to an initiative by the Climate Leadership Council and hard work by S4CD. It’s a set of policy recommendations —including carbon pricing— endorsed by thousands of economists across the country. These economists included 28 Nobel laureates, 15 former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors (from Democratic and Republican presidencies), and four former chairs of the Federal Reserve. The CLC describes it as the largest public statement of economists in history.
Over 50 volunteers from S4CD spent weeks and winter holiday breaks building a database of “almost every economist in the country”, according to Posner. They contacted economists at universities big and small, top think tanks, and investment businesses, from both sides of the political spectrum. Using this data, former Federal Reserve chair and current Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen sent a message nationwide to try and gain support. Economists from all 50 states endorsed the statement, which was eventually published in The Wall Street Journal.
S4CD has continued building bipartisan support for climate action since. This past summer, S4CD helped organize the Student Government Leaders’ Statement on Carbon Dividends. It’s similar in spirit to the Economists’ Statement and was signed by 400 student body presidents from all 50 states who represent over four million students in total. It has support from many major economists, including Janet Yellen and Gregory Mankiw, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush. This coalition is again bipartisan and, according to Posner, one of the largest declarations of student government officials in history.
Posner is optimistic about the future of bipartisan climate policy. He continues to emphasize the necessity of bipartisanship, as “between now and 2050, the US will be governed by at least four different presidential administrations and by 15 different Congresses.” To him and the people at S4CD, bipartisan climate policies have the best hope of withstanding the back and forth exchanges of power in Washington, DC.
He explains that there is a history of bipartisan work on environmental issues, pointing to the issue of acid rain in the 1990s. Posner describes how acid rain was solved through legislation “championed by a Republican president…, passed on a bipartisan basis, using market principles that successfully addressed the issue ahead of schedule and under budget.” This legislation was the Clean Air Act, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. This bill relied on, in Posner’s words “the exact same policy toolkit [as a carbon dividend] — putting a price on pollution and letting the market work its wonders”. The bill was a success; the Clean Air Act is credited for “making acid rain an issue largely of yesteryear,” and it is still in effect today.
This historical example has given him hope for another market-based, bipartisan environmental measure such as a carbon dividend. In his words, “we’ve done this before, and we can do it again.”
Alex Lei is a CCL volunteer based in the Silicon Valley area. He is a member of the CCL Silicon Valley North (SVN) chapter, the SVN Letter Writing Team, and CCL’s Conservative Caucus. He is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, where he majored in biology and minored in professional writing. While at UC Davis, he was the president of the university’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student organization.