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Guest Blogs

Green New Deal: Just As Dangerous As Climate Denial?

The sweeping but poorly detailed plan bundles an energy transformation with a variety of social goals

Eliminating the use of fossil fuels is only one of the objectives of the Green New Deal. Job creation and security, an end to oppression, and infrastructure repairs also are part of the overly ambitious roadmap. Photo: BrotherMagneto/Flickr

We seem to be caught between extremes: dangerous climate denial and Green New Deal fantasyland. Both sides are engaging in potentially perilous self-deception.

The Green New Deal (GND) rightfully addresses the key issue of our era: how are we going to drastically reduce or eliminate most human-caused greenhouse gas emissions? But while the GND presents high sounding general principles, it has almost no detail, and critics point to several significant concerns.

As currently presented, the costs of the GND would be unaffordable and its implementation could lead to unnecessary government coercion, high taxation, and political division. The breadth of its social proposals goes far beyond climate action. Finally, the 10-year time frame is unrealistically short. While the goals may be honorable, its broad scope and lack of detail leaves the GND open to being labeled as “socialism” or “unattainable pie-in-the sky.”

This introduction describes the current GND and examines its shortcomings. It will be followed by a three-part series called How to Energize a Real Green New Deal that offers realistic, market-focused proposals for action affecting all major segments of our economy.

What is the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal was introduced as a non-binding resolution in Congress in February 2019 with 64 House and nine Senate Democrat co-sponsors. According to the GND fact sheet, the resolution presents “a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War II to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all.”

Along with advocating for needed large-scale greenhouse gas reduction projects, it includes many admirable goals that are not related to reducing carbon emissions:

  • Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure the prosperity and economic security for all people in the United States.
  • Repair and upgrade the infrastructure and industry of the United States.
  • Secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment.
  • Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppressions of indigenous peoples, people of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, unhoused people, people with disabilities, and youth.
  • Guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security, including high-quality union jobs and economic security for all.
  • Provide resources and training, and high-quality education, including higher education and trade schools for all people.
  • Provide healthy food; high-quality health care; safe, affordable, adequate housing for all.
  • Create an economic environment free of monopolies.
  • Overhaul all transportation systems in the U.S.
  • Restore fragile and threatened ecosystems.
  • Clean up hazardous waste sites.

Both the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and these broad social goals are to be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization with funding from the Federal Reserve creating money or from the federal government taking on massive debt.

In describing why such an ambitious program as the Green New Deal is needed, N.Y. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of its main promoters, said, “The scope of the solution has to match the scope of the problem” – an assessment that is undeniably true. However, the scope of the problem being addressed by the GND goes way beyond the goals targeting climate change and instead veers off into a range of social and economic issues that threaten its political and economic viability. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the practical steps required for a real world solution are not described.

Why the Green New Deal is potentially dangerous

The GND raises many unanswered questions. Not answering them leads to wishful thinking with regard to the possibility that its goals will be actually achieved. Here are some of questions that need practical real world answers:

  1. Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is a gigantic goal. How can we actually accomplish this? What is the plan?
  2. The GND is made even more ambitious by including many desirable diverse non-carbon reduction goals. How can we implement this ambitious set of vague goals without political or economic breakdown? Will achieving the main goal of greenhouse gas reduction be lost in what will likely prove to be a gargantuan political struggle?
  3. While the GND admirably advocates a “just and fair transition” for all communities and workers, it ignores the fact that there will be winners and losers as many fossil fuel related jobs, industries, and communities will no longer be needed. How will the losers be helped to transition into new projects and jobs that are dignified and productive?
  4. Providing economic security for all who are unable to work is a current, unfilled goal of society. Converting to zero carbon clean energy will indeed be an engine of job creation, but these sweeping job and social programs, including goals such as healthy food and access to nature for all, are not the primary objective. Does it make sense to commingle these social goals with an attempt to address how to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions?
  5. Investing in infrastructure and industry to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century is a long-standing goal of U.S. politicians, but there is no detail in this proposal. Will infrastructure investments for highways and bridges lead to more greenhouse gas emissions rather than less? How much and what kind of government involvement will be needed to make these things happen?
  6. Regarding the 10-year time frame, is it realistic? Any one of the GND goals would be a challenge to accomplish in a single decade. How can we possibly achieve all of them in that time? Even if we focused just on getting to zero net greenhouse gas emissions, including aircraft and farm animal emissions, as well as emissions from all manufacturing, all ground transportation, shipping, building, agriculture, and infrastructure including construction and reconstruction, would ten years come close to being enough time?
  7. How can we actually afford the GND as outlined? Many of the goals could each cost more than a trillion dollars. For example, getting our infrastructure up to the standards set by the American Society of Civil Engineers could require $4.5 trillion. Jobs and income for all could cost billions. A smart grid could cost close to a trillion, and carbon capture and storage could cost many billions. But there are no cost estimates in the GND. How much will our government be willing and able to invest in getting to zero net greenhouse gas emissions?
  8. Even if we focus solely on the goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions, as we should, how will this complex program be implemented and funded? Do we want the Federal Reserve to print more money and put our economy at risk? Do we want even larger federal deficits than our current deficit? Do we want higher taxes? To what degree will any of these investments bring a return? How will these investments really “pay for themselves,” as claimed by its proponents?
  9. The core challenge will be transitioning away from fossil fuels, which could cost trillions of dollars. And it will involve abandoning expensive fossil fuel assets – including all oil and gas drilling rigs, pipelines, storage facilities, gas stations, fuel transport trucks and ships, gas appliances and gas fueled mechanical systems in homes and businesses, gas or diesel fueled vehicles and ships – reducing their asset value to zero. It will involve rebuilding or replacing everything that runs on fossil fuels – and almost everything in our lives is “powered by, moved by and/or manufactured from fossil fuels.” Most experts agree we cannot possibly make this transition in 10 years. The questions we all need to address are: Can we make it in 30 years? And what is a realistic road map to getting there? How big a role should government have? And how will it be paid for?

This Green New Deal is not the answer

Making the transition from oil, coal, and natural gas, with their existing infrastructure, will be a challenging task. But it can be accomplished before 2050 with effective planning, existing and evolving technologies, realigned incentives, and enhanced market mechanisms.

It can be accomplished without crash programs, without intrusive government controls, and without investing trillions of government dollars.

While climate denial will lead to certain disaster, the GND is not the answer because it will likely divert us from devising and implementing the specific steps needed to take effective actions to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions. These actions must align with reality, utilize practical incentives, and harness market forces so that solving this problem can be a win for all. Although it cannot be a social program, it will have many social benefits: for health, the environment, and jobs.

How to Energize a Real Green New Deala three-part series, explores how to effectively reduce carbon emissions by setting and incentivizing realistic, affordable, market-based measures that utilize and build on existing technologies. It will explore ways to selectively focus government involvement to guide, stimulate, and support free enterprise at the lowest cost possible. And it will explore how these measures can be implemented in ways that benefit families, small businesses, local governments, the middle class, and lower income citizens.

 

Joseph Emerson is a co-founder of the Zero Energy Project where this article originally appeared. Emerson writes that this series of blogs on the Green New Deal is inspired by Chris Martinsen’s Deconstructing the Green New Deal.

9 Comments

  1. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #1

    I guess everyone has forgotten John Kennedy's 1960's "New Frontier" and 1961's goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. Both goals were "un-achievable" at the time, and they were born from the necessity of a new post-war economic development and containment of the Soviet Union. How did it worked out? See: https://www..com/watch?v=wykaDgXoajc
    Maybe this Green New Deal is un-achievable in 10 years, but the goals are undeniably needed to look at them if we are going to stay ahead of a global economy, even if it takes 20 or 30 years. Look at the infrastructure, technologies and economic commitments that other countries have done over the last 20-30 years, especially China and India. See other points of view: https://www..com/watch?v=T9l2yCH5wBk, https://www..com/watch?v=fnIl212tBPk, and https://www..com/watch?v=aG-8Fmk58-M
    I salivate thinking of an economic revolution, inventions and opportunities a realistic Green New Deal can be for the next generations. Certainly, not having ambitious goals is burring heads in the sand.
    A bit of interesting history: https://www..com/watch?v=Q_vJfIy1wpw

  2. User avater
    Jon R | | #2

    > Create an economic environment free of monopolies.

    Despite this goal, apparently the plan will involve a massive increase in control by the largest, most oppressive and hardest to escape monopoly - the federal government. Current events suggest that this should be limited to the least amount possible (while getting the job done).

    I agree that "mixed bag" legislation is bad (but perhaps necessary) politics - a "green" deal would ideally stick to "green" issues.

    A few trillion is a lot of money - but cheaper than a small senseless war.

    It's nearly impossible to agree on this issue if you don't agree about time frames and concern for future generations. If you are say 73 years old and don't care about future generations, then minimal concern is logical.

  3. John Knecht | | #3

    "Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is a gigantic goal. How can we actually accomplish this? What is the plan?"

    It is meant to lay out the goals and start the process-not to be a fully realized plan.

    " it ignores the fact that there will be winners and losers as many fossil fuel related jobs, industries, and communities will no longer be needed"
    "Does it make sense to commingle these social goals with an attempt to address how to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions?"

    In one paragraph it is accused of ignoring losers and questioned for giving excess consideration to improving society in the next. Which is it?

    "Investing in infrastructure and industry to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century is a long-standing goal of U.S. politicians"

    Some politicians are, but there are enough working against them to stymie any progress. Identifying which are which could be instructive.

    "How can we actually afford the GND as outlined?"

    Current US policy of doing little to nothing is more expensive.

    "Do we want even larger federal deficits than our current deficit? Do we want higher taxes?"

    Yes and yes.

    "How to Energize a Real Green New Deal, a three-part series, explores how to effectively reduce carbon emissions by setting and incentivizing realistic, affordable, market-based measures"

    I look forward to reading it, but in my experience "market-based" is usually a euphemism for corporate subsidies and rugged individualism for the poor.

    It seems that the main critique of the GND this piece gives is the inclusion of goals to improve society while we completely overhaul our energy systems. This is shortsighted. Including the goal to make the lives of Americans better opens up the possibilities. Just from a rursl residential builder's perspective-it will be difficult to get people to switch to electric heating. But what if they are allowed to buy some of the renewable generating ability with low or no interest loans (or are granted, god forbid, some amount)? These opportunities will be missed if the approach doesn't care about it's effects on people.

    Yes the GND is vague and ambitious-its the starting point.

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Joseph,
    You wrote, "The costs of the GND would be unaffordable."

    You want "unaffordable"? Try runaway global warming if you want unaffordable.

    You wrote, "Its implementation could lead to unnecessary government coercion, high taxation, and political division."

    I'll give you "political division," but that already exists (with or without the Green New Deal). Is government intervention (which you call "coercion") necessary or unnecessary to address the climate change crisis? Most scientists would vote "necessary." Whether taxes are high or low depends on your perspective -- most European democracies have higher levels of taxation than the U.S.

    You wrote, "the 10-year time frame is unrealistically short." But the time frame is dictated by climate science, not politics.

    You wrote, "Its broad scope and lack of detail leaves the GND open to being labeled as 'socialism'."

    Ah, the "S" word. I'm not sure what socialism means in this context -- but if we fail to address the climate crisis because Republicans successfully use the "socialist" label to smear action to slow climate change, historians (if any survive to tell the tale) will not have kind words for our political leaders.

  5. User avater
    Geir Gaseidnes | | #5

    Anyone with as many gray hairs as I have, or as many as Joseph does for that matter has absolutely no business telling anyone younger than us that they're moving too fast on climate change mitigation and prevention. I'm with Martin - we ought to move as fast as the challenge requires of us, not as fast as is politically expedient.

    Where markets are sufficient to move the dial fast enough, let's use them. Where they're not, let's tip the scales using regulation and incentives. No one is arguing for a command economy. If they are, then they're in the absolute minority.

  6. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #6

    Does anybody see an inherent conflict with

    > "But while the GND presents high sounding general principles, it has almost no detail, and critics point to several significant concerns.

    As currently presented, the costs of the GND would be unaffordable..." <

    How can the costs even be estimated, let alone judge that those costs would be "...unaffordable..." when there is "...almost no detail..."?

    The very lack of detail allows for both flights of fancy and spectres of bogeymen to fill the vacuum. A stated set of goals that are as-yet-unlegislated isn't something the CBO can put a number on, while people all over the political spectrum seem to pretend that such a number exists or can be estimated.

    The devil, like the actual cost in the absent details. Where some conjure paradiso, others, inferno. But without a stated set of goals hammering out the details isn't even possible, and a realistic cost assessment can only be made during and after that process.

    When costs of some aspects such as the proposed infrastracture upgrades & repairs are assessed, as in the American Society of Civil Engineers' $4.5 trillion number, it has to be tempered with a comparison of what would have been spent without the GND, which would be only responsible for the difference in cost. That $4.5 trillion estimate is what is needed, completely independent of the GND. Arguing that fixing infrastructure isn't affordable doesn't make a very good case, and lumping those costs solely onto the GND ledger as a evidence that the GND is unnaffordable is ludicrous.

    The power of the cost learning curves of technology have long been underestimated, and even without a plan the just eliminating subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will decarbonize energy prior to 2050 as the economic tilt toward cheap renewable techonology steepens. But while necessary, that alone isn't sufficient. The GND is essentially a proposal to agree to make a comprehensive plan. Assertions that the plan will necessarily involve an intrusive top-down bogeyman are premature.

  7. Eric Habegger | | #7

    I was just sputtering at the whole array of willfully ignored issues and false assumptions in this article. I'm glad others commenting here explained them so well so I don't have to.

  8. John Clark | | #8

    Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure the prosperity and economic security for all people in the United States.

    - Govt can't create jobs which the market will not support via the voluntary exchange of goods/services. The Gov't cannot insure equal positive outcomes. See Exhibits: Soviets, Venezuela.

    Repair and upgrade the infrastructure and industry of the United States.

    - This in itself is nothing new. Infrastructure maintenance is expensive, and disruptive. Perhaps govt should just concentrate on maintaining existing infrastructure and throw off new road construction on to the private sector via tolls. If people want a road bad enough then they as daily users can pay for the construction.

    Secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment.

    - This is just an open-ended nonsense of a statement resembling high school politicking.

    Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppressions of indigenous peoples, people of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, unhoused people, people with disabilities, and youth.

    - HAHA, yes. This is code for lets pay Native Americans a little more money but keep them in perpetual poverty on the reservation in order to preserve their culture. After all Govt really knows what the Native Americans need. God forbid we actually give them ownership of land on which they reside.

    Guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security, including high-quality union jobs and economic security for all.

    - MMT open-ended nonsense.

    Provide resources and training, and high-quality education, including higher education and trade schools for all people.

    - Yes, because trillions in taxpayer backed student loan debt doesn't seem to be working so lets throw more money at "the problem".

    Provide healthy food; high-quality health care; safe, affordable, adequate housing for all.

    -Again, Govt can't guarantee equal outcomes. Haven't we seen this rodeo more than once before?

    Create an economic environment free of monopolies.

    -There are two types of monopolies. The one spoken about here only occurs with the support of govt. Yes, folks, those monopolies which reduce consumer choice and increase costs only occur with the support of government. This support occurs via regulatory capture.
    Business and Govt get together to, exchange political donations, and write rules which limit competition. Business writes it off as an expense, and the politicians get to claim they're protecting consumers. You're seeing this occur in the social media sphere.

    Overhaul all transportation systems in the U.S.

    -Haven't we already hit this?

    Restore fragile and threatened ecosystems.

    - What does this even mean with millions of people already living on reclaimed wetlands or floodplains. Are Progressives for example going to actually propose the forced resettlement of over half the population of New Orleans? Are they going to require that the Army Corp of Engineers take out the straight pipe waterways through the Mississippi River Delta?

    Clean up hazardous waste sites.

    -Meh, Restating something which is already occurring.

    Not impressed.

  9. LakeGuySC | | #9

    "Ah, the "S" word. I'm not sure what socialism means in this context -- but if we fail to address the climate crisis because Republicans successfully use the "socialist" label to smear action to slow climate change, historians (if any survive to tell the tale) will not have kind words for our political leaders."

    Martin... here's an interesting view from a Democrat:

    Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, responded to the threat of a primary from the four female progressive House members known as "the squad" on Tuesday and accused them of being socialists in disguise.

    "I mean it's this group called the Justice Democrats. I think they're not Democrats quite honestly," he said on "Your World with Neil Cavuto."

    "They're socialists and they want to impose their vision to Texas and we certainly know that in Texas our vision is very different from ... what I call these Justice Democrats, which are really socialists. They're not really Democrats."

    https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2019/07/18/texas-democrat-trashes-ocasiocortez-and-her-crew-theyre-not-democratstheyre-socialists-n2550253

    Note: In the 116th United States Congress, (the Green New Deal) is a pair of resolutions, House Resolution 109[8] and S. Res. 59, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

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