Sunday, June 03, 2012

Republicans and Environmentalism

Tom Friedman reminds us that the Republican Party used to support environmental causes.  Teddy Roosevelt's conservation efforts and Richard Nixon's Clean Air Act are offered as an example of the past "G (reen) OP".  So, what happened?     Why is today's Republican Party the "anti-environmental policy" party?

My favorite explanation focuses on a spatial separating equilibrium.  The Democrats live in center cities while Republicans cluster in Suburbs.   The Center Cities (due to their high density) suffer from pollution problems that require collective action (such as tighter air quality and water quality standards) while the suburbs are "green" (the solution to pollution is dilution).  The Republicans have (on average) created a moat between themselves and pollution.  The Republicans are not "anti-environment" but they can use private markets to purchase environmental access (ski resorts , Club Med) when they want to have a  "green moment".

Turning to the challenge of climate change, the typical Republican household has located in the suburbs in a big house and drives a lot of miles while the typical Berkeley household has a small carbon footprint and can relatively easily adapt to carbon pricing while the Republican households recognize that they will face a higher "carbon tax" to keep their lifestyle up and going in a carbon pricing world.    Such a household's price of meat will rise, price of air conditioning, price of driving --- all will rise more than for Liberals in a carbon constrained world because of the spatial sorting discussed above.

My recent research has examined how political ideology influences household choice over location and lifestyle.   See this paper and this one.