AUSTIN, Tex. — While half the field of Democratic presidential candidates are busy arousing socialist passions, the other half seems ready to take an ideological chill pill in favor of practicalities. Pete Buttigieg is mostly in the latter camp. 

Notwithstanding his “porn star presidency” sound bite — a Molotov cocktail of a meme that sent our Twitter feeds spinning — Buttigieg most often comes off as the affable, studious problem-solver we’re starving for, as he did at last month’s CNN Town Hall at South by Southwest.

Columnist David Brooks, writing about Mayor Pete in this week’s New York Times, notes that we like Buttigieg because he “deftly detaches progressive policy positions from the culture war” and “eschews grand ideological conflict.”

Case in point: Mayor Pete’s statement at the CNN Town Hall about one particular policy will, I predict, emerge as a credible tool for bipartisan movement on the 800-pound gorilla called climate change. That policy is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), and it’s already a bill in the U.S. Congress.

In Buttigieg’s words: “More investments in renewables are going to be needed… We’re going to have to contemplate a carbon tax, and by the way, there are ways to do that so that most Americans would be better off fiscally, because we could return funds right back to the American people. But in so doing, we would help to capture the true cost of things that are happening right now, because it’s in your and my lifetime that (that) cost is going to be paid, one way or the other.”

EICDA, a.k.a. H.R. 763, should be seen as the most effective way to turn the climate change crisis into an opportunity. This legislation creates 2.1 million jobs across the American economy, reduces carbon emissions by 40% over the first 12 years, and prevents air pollution-related deaths (a serious problem in Indiana).

Here’s how EICDA works. A steadily rising fee is placed on carbon pollution and the resulting revenue is returned to households as a dividend. The dividend comes from pricing carbon at its source, whether from the ground, below the sea, or imported from abroad. The first year it’s $15 per ton and increases every year by another $10. This equates to about nine cents per gallon of gas. The fees are returned monthly to households in total, sort of like a tax refund, minus minor administrative costs, to pay for the added cost at the pump or on your light bill.

Most households would get back at least as much as they pay in, with medium- and lower-income levels seeing more benefit since their fossil fuel consumption is lower than higher-income households. 

The transition to clean energy is already an economic mandate, if not a political one (to wit, NIPSCO’s announcement last fall that they’re ditching coal for solar and wind within 10 years). Like your mother told you when you didn’t want to eat your spinach: “We can make this hard, or we can make this easy.” 

While the Green New Deal overall has predictably become a partisan punching bag, EICDA could be the best first step on climate that proves palatable to candidates on the opposite end of the rainbow from Buttigieg, in part because it’s revenue-neutral. 

Even Indiana mayors who aren’t running for president have probably seen Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center’s plethora of reports detailing the effects of climate change on Indiana’s agriculture, infrastructure, public health, forests, and water quality. Every Indiana mayor, senator or representative ought to want the green jobs that would spread like kudzu if EICDA were adopted.

Bottom line: 70% of Americans, and 64% of Hoosiers, want action on climate. Voters - and any politician half as brainy as Buttigieg - should be supporting the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act to make a straightforward, achievable and economy-boosting leap to the post-carbon era. 

Laker is a freelance grant writer, former director of communications at the Indiana Forest Alliance, and a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also hosts a movie review show, Flick Fix, on WQRT 99.1.