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Ex-Secretary Of State Advocates Causes Not Key In Modern Republican Agenda

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

James Baker served under two Republican presidents, Reagan and the elder Bush, as secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, and chief of staff. What's Baker up to now? Well, he's writing about causes that don't figure prominently on the modern Republican agenda.

James Baker is advocating a global ban on the sale of ivory to protect the elephants. He's also pushing a carbon tax despite his doubts about the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change.

JAMES BAKER: I'm not a scientist, and I don't know the extent to which man-made causes contribute to global warming. But I do know this. The risk is too great for us not to have an insurance policy. And the proposal involves a carbon tax, but it's not a carbon tax proposal because we rebate the proceeds from that tax totally to the American people. It is conservative. It is free market, and it is internationally competitive.

SIEGEL: You say it would replace the current regulatory system of trying to control carbon emissions.

BAKER: Yes, and it - well, that's the - I forgot that. That's the most important part of it. We'd get rid of all of the current regulatory requirements, including all the EPA proposals that burden our energy industry.

SIEGEL: But in fact, if you do have a - I mean something that is called a carbon tax for a reason, it's because the people who do something would send money to the government. If that money were then redistributed on the basis of some need to people, it would be a redistributive tax. It doesn't sound like anything that could clear the U.S. House of Representatives today under its current majority.

BAKER: Well, I'm not so sure. Perhaps it might not simply because it's called a tax. In my view, it's not a tax if it doesn't grow government. I prefer to call it a carbon dividends program.

SIEGEL: That's a great piece of branding that you've done there to...

BAKER: Well, it's not...

SIEGEL: ...Not call the carbon tax a carbon tax.

BAKER: We didn't do too good a job because everybody calls it a carbon tax.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Well, you are, as you've said, also a great advocate. You were involved in banning of the sale of ivory and protecting the elephants. What do you say - what do we as a country say to the farmer in Zimbabwe or whatever who says, look; I'm barely feeding my family? One elephant can trample my crops and ruin my season. For us in America, the beast is a thing of wonder. For him, it's about as welcome as an elephant would be in the middle of Houston.

BAKER: Well, you're talking about destructive elephants in the context of calling those who destroyed farmlands and so forth. I'm talking about poachers going out and killing elephants that don't represent any sort of a threat to anybody's livelihood.

SIEGEL: But as you know...

BAKER: And they kill...

SIEGEL: ...African farmers can be extremely unsympathetic to elephants where they don't regard...

BAKER: Well, they are. Oh, there's no doubt about that. But in most African countries today, the governments understand the benefits that are conferred by having that wildlife, and they seek to protect that wildlife.

SIEGEL: The price of ivory has now declined in China - sign of success?

BAKER: China has just announced within the past two or three months that it is going to ban sales of ivory within China at the end of this year. And that's a very positive step in the right direction. There are other Asian countries that if we could convince them to do the same thing, we could return to a global ban on ivory sales. And that's what we ought to have.

SIEGEL: You're a hunter.

BAKER: Yes.

SIEGEL: And you believe very strongly in maintaining a world with elephants. Have you or could you see yourself shooting an elephant?

BAKER: No, I've never shot an elephant, and I don't think I could shoot an elephant. When I first went on my first safari way back in 1974, I was told that I could pay for my Safari if I bought an elephant license. I could pay for it with the ivory from the elephant. So I bought the elephant license. I hunted them, but I couldn't bring myself to shoot an elephant.

I don't think it's all that sporting, quite frankly. It's nowhere near as sporting, for instance, as hunting Cape buffalo. When you hunt buffalo, you're not - you don't know whether you're going to get the buffalo or the buffalo's going to get you (laughter). And there are many, many of them. They're not endangered. It's just that what's happening today is an absolute crime.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

BAKER: I really don't want to contemplate a world in which my grandchildren or great-grandchildren would grow up and there would be no wild elephants. But we're rapidly marching in that direction.

SIEGEL: Well, former Secretary of State James Baker, thank you very much for talking with us today.

BAKER: Thank you, Robert.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ SHADOW SONG, "BROKEN LEVEE BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.