12/10/2009 10:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Third Way on Climate Change

I believe that climate change is a reality, and I think humans are causing it. I am neither a "chicken little" alarmist nor an "ostrich" who thinks we should just ignore the evidence because it is all part of a "liberal agenda." I know this puts me at odds with many of my readers, and I am cool with that. If you've read this blog more than once, you probably realize that I don't shy away from the controversial issues.

It seems that almost every week I get an email from another climate change skeptic with a link to some weatherman living in Wyoming who says it all a hoax that the underground socialist movement has hatched in dark, smoky alleyways. While I read and respond to every email, I don't spend a lot of time arguing with people about the existence of or the causes of global climate change anymore. Perhaps most humorous is the fact that people are putting their trust in meteorologists to begin with. Weathermen have a hard enough time predicting the weather tomorrow. What makes you think they can predict 100 years out? Don't get me wrong. I think there are some very capable and well-intentioned scientists who disagree with the majority opinion. I just disagree with them.

I have been fully persuaded that something seems to be happening, and even if by some slim chance that it isn't, we should probably still act. Most of the things that would reduce the effects of climate change if it does exist are things we should be doing anyway--purifying the air, reducing consumption, protecting forestland, restricting the astronomical amounts of toxic gases that we are pumping into the air. I paraphrase Thomas Friedman: If global warming is a hoax, it is the greatest hoax that has ever been hatched. Who doesn't want healthy forests, clean air and water, and cutting edge green industries?

The big problem I have with the climate change conversation involves proposed solutions. Due to the fact that conservatives abandoned environmentalism long ago, the only ones proposing solutions to this very real problem are liberal policymakers. They are proposing a system called "cap and trade," which basically means that the government would place a cap on the amount of carbon emissions that industries would be able to emit through the selling of "carbon credits." If an industry developed a way to reduce their output, they could sell their carbon credits and make a profit. The problem is that all the money generated by this massive legislation would--you guessed it--go right back into the pocket of big brother.

Don't get me wrong, I support capping carbon emissions. I even support the government imposing the caps. But simply funneling the money back into government to create and fund more programs is counterproductive and will not stimulate an already weakened economy. Don't be fooled--this legislation will become a reality unless conservative environmentalists can speak loudly for an alternative solution.

A common ground solution may be "cap and dividend," a legislative solution laid out in GOOD Magazine's article, "The Third Way: Carbon Cap and Dividend." Cap and dividend does corrects the mistakes of cap and trade by setting more realistic caps on emissions and taking all the money generated and returning it to the taxpayers. Capping carbon emissions will certainly result in higher energy costs. Paying the dividends to everyday individuals offset this increase while working toward a healthier life, a more vibrant creation, and a more sustainable lifestyle. If you care about environmental problems and the world's poor that are hit the hardest by these problems, I would encourage you to give this solution some serious thought.

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. He blogs regularly at