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Contributing columnist

Hugh Hewitt, a Post contributing columnist, hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and is author of “The Fourth Way: The Conservative Playbook for a Lasting GOP Majority.”

Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:

“The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”

This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago. That 15-member panel, established by an executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan, was charged with recommending changes in the Social Security system to ensure its continued solvency. Alan Greenspan chaired the group, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) saved it when it stalled — and the result was a “Social Security consensus” that kept the system solvent for years to come.

The country now faces a similarly urgent need for a “climate change consensus,” and not just on the basic fact that the Earth’s temperature has risen by about one degree Celsius over the past century and that mankind has contributed to that rise. We need a consensus on what, if anything, reasonable Americans ought to support doing.

The time is ripe for this, underscored by the all-star White House meeting Wednesday with a group of Republican luminaries, including former secretary of state James Baker and former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers Martin Feldstein and Greg Mankiw, pressing a revenue-neutral carbon tax. But while the names impress me, I just don’t know about the solution. Count me as skeptical but open to being persuaded.

At dinner with my college roommate Dan Poneman a few weeks back, Dan — the former deputy energy secretary for President Obama, a National Security Council staffer for both presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and now president of the uranium enrichment company Centrus Energy Corp. — laid out the “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change. The United States, he said, should work both to restart our nuclear industry — it is non-carbon emitting — and to control carbon emissions through various approaches. He cited former secretary of state George Shultz’s support of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as an “insurance policy” that paid off in preventing significant environmental damage.

It’s a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.

So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.

I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.


And why McChrystal? Read his book “Team of Teams” and you’ll understand. With him in the chair, we will get the answers we need — fast. And Trump would make history again, much as Reagan did with Social Security.