The Green New Deal Explained
A call to end fossil fuels and build green jobs
The Green New Deal
The term “Green New Deal” has been used to describe various sets of policies that aim to make systemic change. For instance, the United Nations (UN) announced a Global Green New Deal in 2008.1 Former President Barack Obama added one to his platform when he ran for election in 2008, and Green Party candidates, such as Jill Stein and Howie Hawkins, did the same.
While it isn’t a brand new concept, the Green New Deal has become a big part of policy debates in the country today, largely due to the remarkable ascent of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the youngest woman to be elected to the House of Representatives.
Her ambitious and wide-ranging proposal was a centerpiece of her campaign that addresses an issue that 60% of Americans say already affects their local community. As it stands, the deal promises to tackle economic inequality by creating high-quality union jobs. The Green New Deal has also been helped by a grassroots outfit called the Sunrise Movement, which organized a much-talked-about protest at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office in February 2019.
-The term “Green New Deal” has been used to describe various sets of policies that aim to make systemic change.
-The term was first used by Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman in January 2007 and was made popular by the proposal made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey in Congress in 2019.
-The deal, which failed to pass in the Senate, emphasizes environmental and social justice while calling for the creation of new jobs.
-Supporters say everyone is responsible to pay their fair share, which will result in tremendous cost savings.
-Critics say implementing the deal will cost as much as $93 trillion.
History of the Green New Deal
The term “Green New Deal” was first used by Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman in January 2007. At that point, America experienced its hottest year on record (although there have been five hotter since). Friedman recognized the easy solution to climate change politicians hoped for wasn’t possible. It was going to take money, effort, and upsetting an industry that is always generous with campaign contributions.
Transitioning away from fossil fuels, he argued in a New York Times column, would require the government to raise prices on them, introduce higher energy standards, and undertake a massive industrial project to scale up green technology.
“The right rallying call is for a ‘Green New Deal,’” he wrote, referencing former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic programs to rescue the country from the Great Depression. “If you have put a windmill in your yard or some solar panels on your roof, bless your heart. But we will only green the world when we change the very nature of the electricity grid—moving it away from dirty coal or oil to clean coal and renewables.”
The U.S. gets 80% of its energy from coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal
Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a 14-page nonbinding resolution in Congress in February 2019 calling for the federal government to create a Green New Deal. The resolution had more than 100 co-sponsors in Congress and attracted a number of Democratic presidential candidates during the election.
On March 26, 2019, lawmakers in the Senate voted 57-0 against advancing the resolution with 43 out of 47 Democrats voting “present” in order to not take a formal position.10 The Democrats protested Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bringing up the vote without scheduling hearings and expert testimonies first.
While politicians have known about climate change and the idea of a Green New Deal for years, this is the most detailed plan presented to the American people to transform the economy, even though it is extremely vague and acts as a set of principles and goals rather than of specific policies.
The text of the resolution details how climate change affects the economy, the environment, and national security, and outlines goals and projects for a 10-year national mobilization.
The plan emphasizes environmental and social justice. It acknowledges how historically oppressed groups (indigenous peoples, people of color, the poor, and migrants) are more likely to be affected by climate change and asks that they be included and consulted. Its progressive spirit is reflected in calls for the protection of workers’ rights, community ownership, universal healthcare, and a job guarantee.
According to the resolution, the U.S. must lead the way to reduce emissions. That’s because of its technological advancement and its historical contribution to the disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The chart below, from the World Bank, illustrates how U.S. consumers account for an oversized share of global carbon emissions.
What’s in the Green New Deal?
The main goal of the plan is to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero and meet 100% of power demand in the country through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources by 2030.
The Green New Deal also calls for the creation of millions of jobs to provide a job guarantee to all Americans, along with access to nature, clean air and water, healthy food, a sustainable environment, and community resiliency. These goals are to be accomplished through the following actions on the part of the federal government:
-Providing investments and leveraging funding to help communities affected by climate change
-Repairing and upgrading existing infrastructure to withstand extreme weather and ensuring all bills related to infrastructure in Congress address climate change
-Investing in renewable power sources
-Investing in manufacturing and industry to spur growth in the use of clean energy
-Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and smart power grids that provide affordable electricity
-Upgrading all existing buildings and building new ones so that they achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability.
-Supporting family farming, investing in sustainable farming, and building a more sustainable and equitable food system
-Investing in transportation systems, namely zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, public transit, and high-speed rail
-Restoring ecosystems through land preservation, afforestation, and science-based projects
-Cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites
-Identifying unknown sources of pollution and emissions
-Working with the international community on solutions and helping them achieve Green New Deals13
Separate legislation would be needed to turn the Green New Deal into a reality if Congress passed the resolution.
The Green New Deal and the 2020 Election
The Green New Deal was one of the topics of the 2020 Presidential debates. Then-President Donald Trump disparaged rival Joe Biden’s climate change plan, calling it a Green New Deal that would cost $100 trillion. Biden denied the charge saying, “That is not my plan.”
During the Vice Presidential debate, Mike Pence claimed that the Biden-Harris team wanted “to bury our economy under a $2 trillion Green New Deal. [They] want to abolish fossil fuels, and ban fracking, which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland.”
The resolution also factored into the campaign trail. Trump acknowledged that human activity contributes to climate change “to an extent.” The Trump campaign wanted to keep fossil fuels in the energy conversation to appeal to those workers and to keep the U.S. relevant as a gas and oil exporter.
President Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution
President Biden declined to endorse the Green New Deal but Vice President Harris was an original sponsor even though she says she fully supports the Biden climate plan. Called “A Clean Energy Revolution,” the plan has many of the same goals as the Green New Deal but with a less ambitious time frame and at a lower cost.
For example, the Green New Deal aspires to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean, renewable energy sources by 2030. Biden’s plan, on the other hand, achieves that goal by 2050. The Green New Deal could cost between $51 and $93 trillion to implement, according to conservative think tanks.6 The Biden plan would involve a federal government investment of $1.7 trillion with a private sector, state, and local buy-in of about $5 trillion.
What’s at Stake?
A common rebuttal to opponents from supporters of the Green New Deal is that although it will be expensive to implement, not doing so will be more expensive in the long run.
In order to stop temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius—the target aimed for in the 2015 Paris Agreement—global emissions need to go to zero by 2050. This means that the window to avoid the most severe impact is rapidly closing.
The federal government spent $450 billion due to extreme weather and fire events between 2005 and 2018, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Government Accounting Office. But experts warn that it will only get uglier.
Climate change will cause more than $500 billion in economic loss in the United States alone each year by 2090, according to a 2019 study. Independent research shows that about 10% could be wiped out in the global economy’s value by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius and the world doesn’t meet the net-zero targets outlined by the Paris Agreement.
Support and Criticism of the Green New Deal
The Green New Deal resolution doesn’t mention how the U.S. government, which has more than $30.4 trillion in debt, would pay for it. Ocasio-Cortez told CBS’s 60 Minutes that “people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes” to pay for the Green New Deal and suggested tax rates of 60% to 70% for the very wealthy.
Regardless of where the money comes from, there is certainly a great deal of support for the proposal, not to mention a lot of criticism.
Advocates of the Green New Deal who promote a heterodox macroeconomic framework called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), including Ocasio-Cortez, believe the government shouldn’t be too concerned about the cost.
“The federal government can spend money on public priorities without raising revenue, and it won’t wreck the nation’s economy to do so,” a group of prominent MMT supporters wrote in an op-ed for The Huffington Post. “The U.S. government can never run out of dollars, but humanity can run out of limited global resources. The climate crisis fundamentally threatens those resources and the very human livelihoods that depend on them.”
Since its ascension in 2018, the Green New Deal has defined the terms of the global climate debate. Perhaps no other climate policy in history has been as successful. Democrats and Republicans alike have been judged by how closely they seem to hew to it. The Sunrise Movement, the highest-profile American climate-activism group, rallies for it. Abroad, the European Union has dubbed its 1-trillion-euro attempt to decarbonize its economy “the EuropeanGreen Deal.” And on the histrionic fields of social media, progressives ask how society can afford flooded subways, horrific droughts, deadly heat waves, and uncontrollable wildfires but not pay for a Green New Deal.
The Green Party, whose plan also calls for America to move to 100% clean energy by 2030 and a job guarantee, says it will result in healthcare savings, (there will be fewer cases of disease linked to fossil fuels) and military savings (there will be no reason to safeguard fuel supplies abroad). The party’s deal also advocates for a robust carbon fee program.
Healthcare and other savings were also touted in a 2015 study by a group of scientists from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley that said it is possible for the U.S. to replace 80% to 85% of the existing energy systems with ones powered entirely by wind, water, and sunlight by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
The very real existential threat to the planet makes the Green New Deal a unique mission statement that is hard to ignore or dismiss. But critics call it too socialist, too extreme, or too impractical. Some are even warned that environmentalists “want to take away your hamburgers.”
The kind of overhaul the deal calls for would be very expensive and require significant government intervention. The center-right American Action Forum pegs the maximum cost at $93 trillion, while Tax Policy Center senior fellow Howard Gleckman said the plan may slow the economy by adding to the debt and even drive jobs overseas.
“Instead of the Green New Deal, the federal government could adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax to decrease emissions without exacerbating the fiscal imbalance,” said Jeffrey Miron, director of economic studies at the right-wing Cato Institute.
Edward B. Barbier, the American economics professor who wrote the report that formed the basis of the UN’s Green New Deal, said that, instead of deficit funding, the government should use revenues that come from dismantled subsidies and environmental taxes.
Investing in a Green New Deal Economy
The passage of the Green New Deal is extremely unlikely in the current political climate. But it is worth looking at investing opportunities that may arise if it influences action at the state level or gets the green light in the future.
UBS says the Green New Deal is indicative of a longer-term trend towards more sustainable and green ways of producing and consuming. Justin Waring, the company’s chief investment officer (CIO) strategist, recommends investing in environmentally oriented sustainable investments.
It feels a little odd to have to point this out as though it’s some keen insight, but: US politics is pretty screwed up right now.
In addition to tapping into the themes’ return potential, such an investment also represents a type of “hedge” against the possibility of more aggressive environmental legislation. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you are worried about environmental legislation, you might want to invest in environmentally-friendly investments.
Josh Price, an energy analyst at Height Capital Markets, told MarketWatch that while the resolution isn’t “a near-term catalyst for us by any means,” the biofuels and renewables space is an interesting place to look for “slow-money, long-time-horizon guys.” He mentioned NRG Energy (NRG), AES (AES), Xcel Energy (XEL) Renewable Energy Group (REGI), and Darling Ingredients (DAR) as stocks to watch.
So here it is: some people power, the most rare and precious commodity for anyone hoping to advance progressive goals.
While a Green New Deal doesn’t explicitly call for eliminating fossil fuel usage, it would hit the industry hard. Nuclear energy stocks are best avoided as well in such a scenario since many don’t consider it to be safe, renewable, or a clean source, and it isn’t a part of the resolution. On the other hand, the semiconductor sector and electric vehicles industry would be among the winners.
How Much Would the Green New Deal Cost?
Opponents estimate a total cost between $51 and $93 trillion, based on upper-end estimates of the Green New Deal’s policy objectives. While the cost may be high, supporters argue that the deal could lead to significant savings, by averting the worst consequences of climate change. Critics, on the other hand, say that implementing it could slow down the economy and will likely require a lot of overhaul and government oversight.
Who Wrote the Green New Deal?
The idea of a Green New Deal was first introduced by Thomas Friedman, who recognized there was no easy solution to climate change. He suggested it would take money, effort, and industry changes to make it a reality.
In 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) introduced a proposal for a Green New Deal in Congress, though it failed to pass in the Senate.
There have been a number of different versions of a Green New Deal, including one written by the Green Party.
How Would the Green New Deal Create Jobs?
The Green New Deal promises to create millions of jobs by tackling economic inequality. Americans would be guaranteed high-quality jobs backed by unions by shifting money from the fossil fuel industry to green technology. The deal supports the inclusion of traditionally marginalized individuals, such as migrant, indigenous, and racially diverse communities.
Muddled, top-down, technocratic: why the green new deal should be scrapped
It’s a vision that unites the left, from Joe Biden to John McDonnell. The trouble is, it’s completely unworkable
Q: What binds together such disparate souls as Noam Chomsky and Keir Starmer, Yanis Varoufakis and Joe Biden, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Caroline Lucas?A: They all want a green new deal.Rightwingers pretend that today’s left likes nothing better than to pull down statues for a laugh before disinviting speakers from student unions, but they are off by approximately 180 degrees. Only one project truly unifies the mainstream left across Europe and America today: trying to limit climate breakdown by overhauling a noxious economic model. Ask the individual parties how and a hundred flowers duly bloom, but all will be branded with those same three little words.
Promising a green new deal helped clinch the Labour leadership for Starmer. It’s also how Biden keeps the Democrat base onside. It galvanises activists and anchors progressive conversation. Measured from the start of 2018 until this week, the phrase “Green New Deal” appeared in this newspaper and on our website almost as many times as “levelling up” and far more than “Narendra Modi”. Seeing as one of those is Boris Johnson’s signature policy and the other runs the world’s second-most populous country, that is quite the showing.Such dominance should spur serious interrogation, yet what the green new deal has received so far is mostly explanation or celebration. So aren’t I, as a gainfully employed Guardianista, coming to join the joyous party? Sorry, but no. I like and respect many of the people working on it, and a few I count as friends – at least until they read this. I certainly agree with their top-line argument that the planet cannot afford this kamikaze capitalism. I just don’t see the green new deal as the answer.
The project itself – supposedly a stark, bold, urgent idea – is a conceptual fog. Like some kind of policy peasouper, it nestles densely around arguments of ecological limits, social justice and economic transformation, allowing only a glimpse of their outlines. That suits many on the left, as it serves to obscure all their disagreements and so keep the peace just a little longer. Rare is the bus that can keep on board both Sadiq Khan and John McDonnell, and take them to totally different destinations. But at some point the warm words and the broad coalitions lose their charm and you are left just as the delegates in Glasgow are: facing the grim reality of a planet on fire.Truth be told, the thing was born in a haze. In 2007, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman took a break from cheering on the Iraq war and crowing about corporate globalisation to pen a demand for a green new deal. His gauntlet was picked up in London by a small group of environmentalists and economists (including Larry Elliott, of this parish), who spent the months after the collapse of Northern Rock writing a plan to tackle the “triple crunch of financial meltdown, climate change and ‘peak oil’”.null
No such radicalism was on Friedman’s menu when he wrote: “I am not proposing that we [Americans] radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are – including a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way … The next president will have to rally us with a green patriotism. Hence my motto: ‘Green is the new red, white and blue.’”Depending on which specs you had on, the green new deal either looked all-American and utterly painless – or it was internationalist and out for bankers’ blood. And down the years, the contradictions have only multiplied.For AOC and today’s US left, it is about jobs (albeit “green” ones, a term far easier to deploy than to define) and infrastructure; for Lucas, Labour’s Clive Lewis and others currently pushing a green new deal through parliament, it includes citizens’ assemblies and a shorter working week. It is both “a green industrial revolution” in the north of England and debt cancellation for the global south; both low-carbon Keynesianism and nationalisation of the energy industry. It is, in other words, a big duffel bag stuffed with pent-up progressive demands and jumbled up with highly dubious history and tiresome war metaphors.null
Why hark back to FDR, who entered the White House nearly a century ago, if you want to be a contemporary global movement? Why lean on Keynes as your crutch, when he set out to save capitalism not to scrap it? Most of all, why talk about a “moonshot moment” (an oft-deployed metaphor by green new dealers, invoking the space race)? The next few decades will not be about inventing entirely new things but substituting for what we already have. Installing heat pumps and ripping out boilers, using renewables rather than fossil fuels, relying on battery power over the internal combustion engine: moving to a lower-carbon future is not going to be a great, dramatic transformation – it will be slow and chronic, and frankly more expensive to societies reared on cheap food, cheap energy and the idea that the rest of the bill for both those things will be picked up by someone else, perhaps yet to be born.This isn’t just a debate over words; it is a battle between rival visions of the future. When Ed Miliband enthuses in his recent (and good) book, Go Big, about moving to a wartime economy with a vast “carbon army” retrofitting draughty homes, he is talking about a green transition that is done to people rather than with them. And it turns voters off. Earlier this year, the polling firm Survation surveyed Britons on a scheme to employ a million people to insulate houses and asked: what should they call it? At the bottom of the list came green new deal. Almost as bad was green industrial revolution. Far and away the favourite was national recovery plan. A process not a product, common sense rather than radicalism.null
At some point, the post-2016 left, radicalized by Trump and Brexit, will have to surrender its notions of a radical programme executed through a vast state machinery. Zombie Johnsonism or revived Trumpism will see them off. I hope what comes next is a more focused, locally rooted and inclusive politics based around asking people what they actually need in their lives, and working out how to fit those things within an environmental framework. That can be done with universal desires such as housing and food, healthcare and education.This is not about green growth versus degrowth, and all those old dichotomies. It is about recognising that large swaths of Britain are now effectively post-growth, and that the proceeds of whatever growth we have had has been very unfairly divided. So let us stop haring after “British-owned turbine factories” and “dominating the industries of tomorrow” and all the other boilerplate of politics. Let’s get real.
The Green New Deal Does Not, Strictly Speaking, Exist
The idea has reshaped global climate policy, but is far less concrete than its supporters have been led to believe.
Even now, as Democrats in Congress and the White House wrangle over the terms of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, the Green New Deal leers from the sidelines. How does the bipartisan infrastructure deal differ from the Green New Deal? Will the partisan reconciliation bill amount to a Green New Deal?
With so much ballyhoo, it’s become easy to miss the central, implacable fact about the Green New Deal: It does not exist.
By this, I don’t mean that it hasn’t passed. I mean something more fundamental: Nobody has written it down. Three years after the idea of a Green New Deal broke into the mainstream, you can’t find an authoritative and detailed list of Green New Deal policies anywhere. There is no handbook, no draft legislation, no official report that articulates what belongs in a Green New Deal and what doesn’t.
This is more than just an academic point. It means that tens of thousands of Americans want very badly to see Congress adopt a political program that definitionally cannot pass,because there is no “it” for lawmakers to vote on. It means that Biden’s infrastructure package cannot be comparedwith the Green New Deal, because the contrast will not find purchase. It means that at a moment of historic possibility, American climate politics still has one leg stuck in the spectral and symbolic, when it should be knee-deep in the real.
I should clarify: We’re not entirely ignorant about the Green New Deal’s policy aims. To hear most supporters tell it, the core idea of a Green New Deal is that the federal government should be the author and finisher of America’s climate transition. The government should decarbonize the country’s energy system by 2030, if not sooner, and adapt American infrastructure to a hotter, angrier world. And it should do so while reducing material inequality and remedying racial injustice. So far, so good.
Onto these climate goals, the Green New Deal has tacked demands for good old-fashioned European social democracy: The original, 14-page Green New Deal resolution, which sketched broad goals and was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in 2019, demanded universal health care, affordable and safe housing, and protections for workers’ right to unionize. These goals made it into later versions of the Green New Deal: You could find them in Senator Bernie Sanders’s climate platform during the 2020 presidential primary, and the Sunrise Movement still demands Medicare for All and student-debt forgiveness.
This bid to expand the welfare state has attracted nonstop criticism. But maybe surprisingly, it strikes me as one of the best-explained aspects of the Green New Deal’s program. It rests (to my eye, at least) on the work of Naomi Klein, Alyssa Battistonti, and a handful of other leftist political theorists who have argued that climate change makes such intense demands of society that addressing it requires a full rewriting of the social contract between individuals and the state. Earth has too few resources to offer every human a life of private opulence; what it can sustain, instead, are communal luxuries—fewer Bugattis, more beautiful rapid-transit systems. The way to create buy-in for climate policy is by building those luxuries as the constraints of low carbon consumption start to bite.
That’s a keen insight.But how to bring about that low carbon consumption? Here, the unifying thread starts to fray. For instance: The original Green New Deal resolution devoted a surprising amount of verbiage to “deindustrialization” and the decline of American manufacturing. It called for green tariffs, purchase guarantees, and beefy “buy American” rules to reinvigorate U.S. industry. When I wrote about the Green New Deal in February 2019, I dubbed this enthusiasm for industrial policy its “big idea.”
That approach was championed by a think tank called New Consensus, which was supposed to write a summary report on the Green New Deal in 2019. Such a report would have clarified what, exactly, belonged in a Green New Deal and what didn’t. But that report never came out, and no other group has tried to write it.
In the resulting vacuum, a series of more recent proposals has taken almost the opposite approach from New Consensus, arguing that the caregiving work of nurses, teachers, and child-care providers should dominate any Green New Deal. This approach sits uneasily at best with a demand for reindustrialization. And the closer one looks, the more one finds areas of silent but potent disagreement about what a Green New Deal even is.
Take these questions, for instance:
How much of a role should electric cars play in a Green New Deal?Activists often talk about ubiquitous buses and high-speed rail. But Sanders’s 2020 climate platform created a more or less direct $3.5 trillion subsidy for the auto industry by helping Americans buy electric cars.
How much of a role should the government play?When Ocasio-Cortez spoke about the Green New Deal three years ago, she allowed for Tennessee Valley Authority–type institutions as well as public-private partnerships. “It’s not as though the federal government’s going to wave a wand and say, ‘We’re going to do it all ourselves,’” she said. Now the Sunrise Movement’s main demand of the government is for a Civilian Climate Corps that will directly hire young people.
How should the Green New Deal be funded? Should the U.S. government push private capital into climate-friendly projects by establishing a new ratings agency for green finance? Or should it reject any role whatsoever for private capital in the energy transition, funding the whole affair through tax dollars?
And thorniest of all: What is the role of the American state in global decarbonization? Should the United States aim to play the same role in the energy transition that it played in World War II (whatever that means)? Can the Pentagon accelerate decarbonization, as Senator Elizabeth Warren has pitched? Or should the U.S. retreat from global affairs, seeking only to partner peacefully with China, or even going as far as defunding the military, as the Sunrise Movement has called for?
These questions matter because they shape how progressives think about climate policy now. Biden has championed both a new industrial policy and care work as infrastructure. How different are his plans from what a Green New Deal would do? The bipartisan infrastructure deal includes a $27 billion green financial accelerator, a sort of green bank. Is that good for progressives, because it is based off Sanders’s plan for a state development bank; or bad, because it muddies a public process with private capital?
Perhaps I’m looking for too much specificity. Maybe no detailed plan is needed in advance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal was an improvisational response to a crisis; it was experimental and pragmatic, not foreordained and strategic. Yet if that’s the case, then progressives should bring a sense of imagination, of possibility, to discussions of the Green New Deal. They should recognize that the Green New Deal is not a single policy to win, but a change in outlook and approach. It does not have a price tag, because it will never be a single thing at all.
This confusion, I think, points to perhaps the most ignored and most important aspect of the climate-policy debate: Nobody knows how to solve climate change. Nobody knows how to decarbonize the economy. Oh, people have ideas about what kind of technologies are important—the U.S. needs more wind, more solar, more electric vehicles, smarter electric grids—but on the fundamental question of how to make those changes happen quickly, we live in ignorance. What kind of political program will connect the prose to the passion, allowing climate-concerned policy makers and workers to build the infrastructure we need today, bank their successes tomorrow, and remake the economy in a decade? The answer is: We do not know. Nobody knows. The world remains open. That’s what makes working on climate issues so enthralling, so terrifying, and such a privilege.
It’s Not Just About Cost. The Green New Deal Is Bad Environmental Policy, Too
Nick is an economist who focused on energy, environmental, and regulatory issues as the Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow.Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of the Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images
Researchers estimate it would take more than $5 trillion just to switch from coal, nuclear and natural gas to 100% renewables.
The Green New Deal would massively expand the size and scope of the federal government’s control over activities best left to the private sector.
The reality is that environmental policies aren’t good for the environment if they’re so bad for people.
We’re not hearing much about the “Green New Deal” these days, but it’s still a priority for some candidates, as anyone who’s attended a recent Bernie Sanders rally can attest.
Criticism of the GND tends to center on cost and rightly so. It would be extremely expensive. Researchers estimate it would take more than $5 trillion just to switch from coal, nuclear and natural gas to 100% renewables.
But even if you set economic concerns aside, an ironic fact remains: In the United States and around the world, the central-planning policies at the heart of the GND have a horrible track record for the environment.
Governments in countries such as Venezuela and China (or in the past like the Soviet Union and Cuba) either routinely mismanage and waste resources, or ramp up production with little to no accountability for environmental damage that comes with it. The absence of price signals reduces the incentive to be more efficient and do more with less.
In addition, the absence of property rights reduces the incentive to conserve and gives government-controlled industries a free pass to pollute without compensating or protecting its citizens.
The Green New Deal would massively expand the size and scope of the federal government’s control over activities best left to the private sector. It would empower the feds to change and control how people produce and consume energy, harvest crops, raise livestock, build homes, drive cars and manufacture goods.
Secondly, the Green New Deal would result in a number of unintended consequences. For instance, policies that limit coal, oil and natural gas production in the United States will not stop the global consumption of these natural resources. Production will merely shift to places where the environmental standards are not as rigorous, making the planet worse off.
Moreover, it’s not as if wind, solar and battery technologies magically appear. Companies still have to mine the resources, manufacture the product and deal with the waste streams. There are challenges to disposing potentially toxic lithium-ion batteries and solar panels, or even wind turbine blades that are difficult and expensive to transport and crush at landfills. While these are solvable problems, they’re seldom discussed by GND proponents.
There would also be massive land use changes required to expand renewable power. Ben Zycher at the American Enterprise Institute estimates that land use necessary to meet a 100% renewable target would require 115 million acres, which is 15% larger than the land area of California.
Two recent National Bureau of Economic Research papers underscore the unintended consequences of energy policy on human well-being. One found that cheaper home heating because of America’s fracking revolution is averting more than 10,000 winter deaths per year. The Green New Deal would wipe all of that away, and reverse course by mandating pricier energy on families.
Another paper found that the Japanese government’s decision to close safely operating nuclear power plants after Fukashima increased energy prices and reduced consumption, which consequently, increased mortalities from colder temperatures. In fact, the authors estimate that “the decision to cease nuclear production has contributed to more deaths than the accident itself.” Unintended consequences.
Another hallmark of bad environmental policy is focusing on outputs, not outcomes. According to the frequently asked questions sheet released along with the Green New Deal, it is “a massive investment in renewable energy production and would not include creating new nuclear plants.”
One would think that if we only have 11 or 12 years to act on climate change, we’d want to grab the largest source of emissions-free electricity we can get. But that’s not the case.
That’s typical for most big-government environmental policies: they’re so focused on prescriptive ways to control peoples’ behaviors that they crowd out or ignore opportunities for innovative solutions.
The reality is that environmental policies aren’t good for the environment if they’re so bad for people. The costs of the GND would be devastatingly high for households. Government policies that drive up energy bills are not only very regressive, but they would also harm consumers multiple times as they pay more for food, clothes and all of the other goods that require energy to make.
By shrinking our economy by potentially tens of trillions of dollars, the Green New Deal will cause lower levels of prosperity and fewer resources to deal with whatever environmental challenges come our way. That’s a bad deal for our economy and our environment.
THE GREEN NEW DEAL WOULD HARM AMERICANS, NOT HELP THEM
The Green New Deal (GND), a piece of legislation proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, gained support from a large base of the younger generation.
The Green New Deal’s goal is to solve America’s environmental issues.
However, as a student and a young person who will receive the negative effects of this deal should it pass, I find this proposal concerning, as its main directive is to siege control and impose progressive laws override their desires to aid the “climate crises.”
Many support the GND because they want to solve climate change, but multiple studies have shown it wouldn’t do much to help the issue. According to a study done by the American Enterprise Institute, the proposal would reduce global temperatures by “0.083 to 0.173 degrees,” a number “barely distinguishable from zero.”
The GND would also be astronomically expensive. In a study reported by Bloomberg News, the proposal could cost up to $93 trillion over the span of 10 years, or $65,000 per family, per year. That’s more than three times the national debt. Between paying for my tuition and student loans, I can’t afford to take on more financial burden and neither can the majority of other college students.
In addition, the Heritage Foundation reports that the GND would cause the average household’s electricity cost to increase by about 12-14%. Economic recession or not, this is an additional hardship that struggling Americans cannot afford.
Another concern is that the initial goal of the GND was not to solve environmental issues, but rather to restructure the economy.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, even said, “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” and, “…we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing,” according to the The
This legislation seems to be a proposal for economic change camouflaged as a piece of environmental legislation.
Environmental policies implemented by the government from the top-down, such as the GND, can lead to more pollution, which is contradictory to the solution this policy aims to provide. As reported by the journal Global Environmental Change, Russia (formerly the USSR when these policies were put into place) already implemented top-down policies like the GND, however, its air quality is 1.5 times dirtier than the USA’s per unit of GDP in the 1980s.
The Green New Deal aims to restructure the economy under the guise of environmental solutions.
Lastly, the GND would largely expand the use of wind and solar energy, but in order to make this work on a national, industrial scale, it would mean the clearing of hundreds of thousands of square miles of forest and habitat to make way for those facilities, according to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. In an effort to promote conservation, habitats for wildlife would be destroyed while making room for these facilities, such as solar panel farms.
The Green New Deal is a harmful environmental policy that aims to implement faulty solutions to the environmental problem that would harm the American people more than it
To be fair I will included a pro Green New Deal article here.
This is an emergency, damn it
Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture.
Earlier this month, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a Green New Deal resolution laying out an ambitious set of goals and principles aimed at transforming and decarbonizing the U.S. economy.
The release prompted a great deal of smart, insightful writing, but also a lot of knee-jerk and predictable cant. Conservatives called it socialist. Moderates called it extreme. Pundits called it unrealistic. Wonks scolded it over this or that omission. Political gossip columnists obsessed over missteps in the rollout.
What ties the latter reactions together, from my perspective, is that they seem oblivious to the historical moment, like thespians acting out an old, familiar play even as the theater goes up in flames around them.
To put it bluntly: This is not normal. We are not in an era of normal politics. There is no precedent for the climate crisis, its dangers or its opportunities. Above all, it calls for courage and fresh thinking.
Rather than jumping into individual responses, I want to take a step back and try to situate the Green New Deal in our current historical context, at least as I see it. Then it will be clearer why I think so many critics have missed the mark.
The context, part one: this is a fucking emergency
The earth’s climate has already warmed 1 degree Celsius from preindustrial levels, unleashing a cascade of super-charged heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, storms, water shortages, migrations, and conflicts. Climate change is not a threat; it’s here. The climate has changed.
And it is changing more rapidly than at any time in millions of years. The human race is leaving behind the climatic conditions in which all of advanced civilization developed, going back to the beginning of agriculture. We have no certainty about what will happen next, mainly because we have no certainty about what we will do, but we know the changes are bad and going to get much worse, even with concerted global action.
Without concerted global action — and with a few bad breaks on climate sensitivity, population, and fossil fuel projections — the worst-case scenarios include civilization-threatening consequences that will be utterly disastrous for most of the planet.
At the moment, nobody is doing a better job of describing the tragic unfolding reality of climate change than author David Wallace-Wells, especially in his new book The Uninhabitable Earth, but also in this New York Times piece. Here’s just a paragraph of coming attractions:
As temperatures rise, this could mean many of the biggest cities in the Middle East and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer, perhaps as soon as 2050. There would be ice-free summers in the Arctic and the unstoppable disintegration of the West Antarctic’s ice sheet, which some scientists believe has already begun, threatening the world’s coastal cities with inundation. Coral reefs would mostly disappear. And there would be tens of millions of climate refugees, perhaps many more, fleeing droughts, flooding and extreme heat, and the possibility of multiple climate-driven natural disasters striking simultaneously.
All of that is expected when the global average temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius.
New EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently dismissed the latest IPCC report as being based on a “worst-case scenario,” which is darkly ironic, since the report is all about the dangers that lie between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming.
But 2 degrees is not the worst-case scenario. It is among the best-case scenarios. The UN thinks we’re headed for somewhere around 4 degrees by 2100. Believing that we can limit temperature rise to 2 degrees — a level of warming scientists view as catastrophic — now counts as wild-haired optimism, requiring heroic assumptions about technology development and political transformation.
The best-case scenario is very, very bad. And it gets much worse from there. From Wallace-Wells’ book:
Two degrees would be terrible, but it’s better than three, at which point Southern Europe would be in permanent drought, African droughts would last five years on average, and the areas burned annually by wildfires in the United States could quadruple, or worse, from last year’s million-plus acres. And three degrees is much better than four, at which point six natural disasters could strike a single community simultaneously; the number of climate refugees, already in the millions, could grow tenfold, or 20-fold, or more; and, globally, damages from warming could reach $600 trillion — about double all the wealth that exists in the world today.
The worst-case scenario, which, contra Wheeler, is virtually never discussed in polite political circles in the US, is, as Wallace-Wells quotes famed naturalist David Attenborough saying, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world.”
That is alarming and, if you must, “alarmist,” but as Wallace-Wells says, “being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand.”
The status quo — continuing along the same trajectory, doing the same things — leads to disaster on a scale that is genuinely difficult to comprehend, involving the fate of our species and thousands of others over centuries to come. (Remember, just because our models tend to stop at 2100 doesn’t mean warming will stop then. It will just get worse.)
The crucial decisions that will shape our species’ future will take place over the next decade. Dramatic change is the only hope of avoiding the worst.
Choosing to continue down our present path is madness. Nihilism. It is not “moderation.”
The context, part two: US politics is a dumpster fire and there is no center
The conservative movement and the Republican Party have descended into unrestrained tribalism, rallying around what is effectively a crime boss who it now appears was elected with the help of a hostile foreign power. The media has calved in two, with an entire shadow right-wing media capturing the near-exclusive attention of movement conservatives, descending into increasingly baroque and lurid fantasies.
The president is now openly admitting to scheduling a “national emergency” because he wanted money for his wall, itself a lurid xenophobic fantasy. Meanwhile he is doing everything in his power to delay or shut down multiple federal investigations into his possible crimes. At every stage of his descent into paranoid lawlessness he has had the support of Republicans in Congress (because he lowered taxes on rich people) and the near-unanimous backing of Republican voters (because he owns the libs).
Basic norms of political conduct are crumbling on a daily basis. The country’s core institutions are under intense stress. It plays out on television and social media like an exhausting spectacle, always turned to 11.
And it all takes place in the context of Americans’ shrinking faith in their political system, which is ever-more-nakedly funneling wealth and power to the already wealthy and powerful (while protecting them from accountability) and heaping more risk and instability onto the most vulnerable.
The reactionary (largely older white male) backlash and the rising appeal of democratic socialism among the young are both, in their own ways, responses to a money-soaked, unresponsive political system.
The house is on fire. But an odd number of Democrats and pundits just seem to be whistling past it, acting out familiar roles and repeating familiar narratives, as though we’re still in an era of normal politics, as though there are still two normal parties and some coherent “center” they are both attempting to capture.
One “moderate” critique of the GND, from Jason Grumet of the Bipartisan Policy Center, is that it overreaches, threatening bipartisan cooperation. But none of these allegedly moderate critics ever explains why, after more than a decade of openly stated, unapologetic, total opposition to anything Democrats propose, the GOP would allow their opponents a victory on one of the most polarizing issues in public life.
For more than a decade, “bipartisan cooperation” has, with very few exceptions, meant inaction on climate change (and much else). And with every passing year, the Republican Party descends further into ethnonationalism and plutocracy. Why are prospects better now?
There is nothing in 21st century American politics to suggest that Republicans will join with Democrats in a dramatic transformation of the economy along more sustainable lines. At this point, it is those who propose bipartisanship as an alternative who bear the burden of proof.
There are those who believe that the structure of US politics is such that bipartisanship is the only route to substantial progress. There’s plenty of evidence and a good-faith argument to be made for that position.
But those who believe it should squarely grapple with the implications. Bipartisanship on any appreciable scale, at least based on reason and persuasion, is currently impossible in US federal politics. Republicans have made it so. If real progress is impossible without bipartisanship, then real progress is impossible, the US political system is doomed, and we will suffer the ravages of unabated climate change.
Let’s assume the most dire predictions are right and we don’t have a moment to lose in substantially decarbonizing the global economy, no matter what the financial cost or political pain. In that case, isn’t Pelosi’s incrementalist approach to climate absurdly inadequate?
Why yes. Yes it is.
Are we dealing with a problem so severe that it requires the political and economic equivalent of war socialism? Or should we think of climate change roughly the same way we think about global poverty — a serious problem we can work patiently to solve without resort to extreme measures like ending capitalism or depriving equally serious priorities of the attention they deserve?
One can quibble with whether it’s accurate to characterize the New Deal as “war socialism” — it was, after all, run primarily in partnership with private industry.
One can also quibble with whether addressing climate change will deprive other issues of attention, as opposed to working in synchrony with them. (Water, agriculture, disease, economic development — climate overlaps with all of them.)
But Stephens gets the basic question right: Is climate change a priority-one emergency, threatening progress in all other areas, as the IPCC and America’s own scientists say? Or is it a manageable problem, addressable with patient, meliorist policy?
Stephens chooses the latter. Tellingly, he offers absolutely no evidence, no reason to distrust the scientific consensus. He can’t wrap his head around the implications of the science so he simply rejects them.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the US political status quo leads to morally unforgivable inaction. That is the baseline condition. Only something that jolts politics in a new direction, marshals some new force, tries some new strategy, has any chance of success (for the grim definitions of “success” still available).
Political change of that scale and speed is unlikely. It’s a long shot. But it’s either long shots or climate disaster at this point.
The context, part three: grassroots energy is not fungible
What can rescue American politics from its current swirl down the toilet bowl? What can give it a jolt of life?
It won’t be a return to the late-Obama era status quo, wherein Democrats win, propose things, and Republicans block them, in a kind of politically numbing kabuki.
It won’t be another scientific report or policy paper. It won’t be another clever “framing” or promising poll result. It won’t be any number or combination of words. It can only happen through power.
And the need for power is not symmetrical. Conservatives defend the status quo and the interests of incumbents. In all of politics, but especially in US politics, preserving the status quo is easier than changing it. It is easier to block and destroy things than to pass and build them. Conservatives have a lower bar for success and the reliable backing of those who benefit most from the status quo.
The left will never win the money game. The right’s billionaires are united in advocating for their interest in lower taxes, less regulation, and less accountability. The left’s are more likely to pick vanity causes or candidates. They love social causes but are far less likely than their counterparts on the right to focus on economic issues or redistribution, in part because many of them are quasi-libertarian tech bros who believe they are smarter than governments and better able to “change the world” if left to their billions.
And of course, government by the whims of the wealthy is problematic in and of itself.
That leaves people power.
Here’s the only way any of this works: You develop a vision of politics that puts ordinary people at the center and gives them a tangible stake in the country’s future, a share in its enormous wealth, and a role to play in its greater purpose. Then organize people around that vision and demand it from elected representatives. If elected representatives don’t push for it, make sure they get primaried or defeated. If you want bipartisanship, get it because politicians in purple districts and states are scared to cross you, not because you led them to the sweet light of reason.
That’s the only prospect I know of for climate action on a sufficient scale. (Seriously, if you know of another, email me.)
Into this milieu comes a youth movement that takes a Democratic Party disengaged and unambitious on climate change and smacks it upside the head. It puts the ultimate goal — to completely decarbonize the US economy in a just and equitable way — on the mainstream Democratic agenda for the first time ever. It accomplishes all this in the course of a few short months.
The conservative response, of course, was entirely predictable. The right reacted exactly as they have reacted to every proposal for social progress since the turn of the 20th century: they denounced it as socialism. You may remember that reaction from unions, Social Security, Medicare, air and water quality regulations, workplace safety standards, seat belts, labeling laws on cigarettes, or Obamacare.
And they lied about it, projecting a whole series of hyperbolic ideological fantasies — it will ban cows and airplanes and SUVs, oh my!
Again: as inevitable as the tides.
But what of people who share the goal of decarbonizing the US economy in a just and equitable way? How should they react?
Should they scold the young activists over ambiguous wording in the resolution? Over failures in the rollout, including the erroneous FAQ that was posted to AOC’s site and then taken down? Over asking for too much — too much justice, too much equity, too many guarantees and promises for ordinary people? Over their failure to properly weight this or that favored technology or policy?
There was so much of this, a stale pageant of Very Serious gestures operating in bizarre indifference to the urgency of current circumstances.
These activists are people in their 20s and early 30s facing a looming catastrophe that previous generations — the very ones busy scolding them for their excess idealism — failed utterly to prevent or address. They are winging it, putting together a plan for economic transformation on the fly, like an overdue college project, because nobody else stepped up to do it.
As Wallace-Wells often points out, the majority of the carbon dioxide that is now in the atmosphere has been emitted since 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen first testified to Congress about climate change. This crisis has largely been created in the space of a generation, by people around the world who knew, or should have known, what they were doing.
These young people, the ones who will live with the snowballing damage, want the US to marshal its full resources to tackle the problem, to transform its economy without leaving anyone behind. It takes a lot of gall for the very people responsible for the current desperate situation to tell them they’re asking for too much, that they should settle down and let the adults handle it.
And it’s incredibly short-sighted. A wave of grassroots enthusiasm like this isn’t fungible. It can’t be returned to the kitchen in exchange for a new one with the perfect mix of policy and rhetorical ingredients. It is lightning in a bottle, easily squandered.
There isn’t much time left to wait for another one. Smart leaders who share the broad goal of equitable decarbonization will amplify and deploy grassroots energy while it’s available. The policy details can be worked out later.
Speaking of which, why not try to make sure the policy takes shape in a smart way? Why not be constructive?
The context, part four: the Green New Deal is not what people are saying it is
The GND resolution is not a policy or a series of policies. It is a set of goals, aspirations, and principles. It purposefully puts the vision up front and leaves the policymaking for later.
Nonetheless, many commentators have simply chosen to pretend it is policy, or project policy on it. “The government would put sector after sector under partial or complete federal control,” frets David Brooks in the New York Times, and “oversee the renovation of every building in America.” None of this is in the resolution.
Nor is a prohibition on nuclear power. Nor is a prohibition on carbon taxes. All of these are things various critics have projected on it.
Neither, as even some sympathetic critics have charged, is it simply a “laundry list” of things progressives happen to like. As the Atlantic’s Rob Meyer argues in this excellent piece (truly: read it), the GND is an expression of a coherent and very American economic philosophy: good old industrial policy.
Actively guiding the economy went out of fashion with the Reagan revolution. Since then, US policymakers have generally restrained themselves to correcting market failures (at least rhetorically — in practice, industrial policy never stopped, it just got buried in the tax code or omnibus bills).
The premise of industrial policy is that the market needs direction and that government should direct it, through public spending, tax policy, regulations, public-private partnerships, and the power of procurement, among other means. (Check out the reading list on the website of New Consensus, the think tank shaping GND policy, for a sense of the policy antecedents and rationales.)
Industrial policy has been the norm in the US, as in most developed countries, for most of its life. Most of the technological advances produced by the US economy have their roots in such policy. It is only in the last 40 years or so that the conservative movement, behind a well-funded media and advocacy apparatus, convinced Americans that the government is “broke” and that public intervention in the economy is presumptively illegitimate.
Part of good industrial policy is shielding ordinary people from the sometimes harsh consequences of economic transformation. The New Deal did that fairly well with land grants, bonds, and job programs, but all its programs were biased strongly in favor of white men.
The GND does not want to repeat those mistakes. So alongside the decarbonization targets for electricity, transportation, industry, and buildings are a series of provisions ensuring that everyone can get a job, that everyone can access health care regardless of their job situation, and that the benefits of public investment will be channeled toward the most vulnerable communities.
It says to Americans: we are going to do something really big, fast, disruptive, and ambitious, but during the transition, you will not be left behind or forgotten. You will be able to find a job and a role to play; you will be not be threatened with homelessness or lack of healthcare. We are going to do this big thing together, all of us, and through it we will lift each other up.
That message will not please America’s oligarchs. It sounds entirely “unrealistic” given the narrow bounds of the possible in Washington, DC. But it can inspire ordinary people and get them invested in solving climate change. And if there’s another way to get a broad swathe of Americans fired up about climate change, I haven’t heard it, certainly not from the legion of GND armchair critics.
To be sure, many economists still oppose industrial policy, and perhaps some Democrats and pundits simply prefer those economists. Perhaps they really are ideologically devoted to market mechanisms and market mechanisms alone.
But to the extent Democrats and pundits are simply looking at the GND through the lens of recent US policy and political dynamics, they need to step back and think bigger. The whole point of this is to try something new, something different — because, again, the current trajectory leads to disaster.
Give the GND a chance
So that’s the context here: a world tipping over into catastrophe, a political system under siege by reactionary plutocrats, a rare wave of well-organized grassroots enthusiasm, and a guiding document that does nothing but articulate goals that any climate-informed progressive ought to share.
Given all that, for those who acknowledge the importance of decarbonizing the economy and recognize how cosmically difficult it is going to be, maybe nitpicking and scolding isn’t the way to go. Maybe the moment calls for a constructive and additive spirit.
The GND remains a statement of aspirations. All the concrete work of policymaking lies ahead. There will be room for carbon prices and R&D spending and performance standards and housing density and all the rest of the vast menu of options for reducing emissions. None of those policy debates have been preempted or silenced.
And yes, there are any number of ways it could go off the rails, politically or substantively. Everyone is free, nay, encouraged to use their critical judgment.
But the circumstances we find ourselves in are extraordinary and desperate. Above all, they call upon all of us to put aside our egos and our personal brands and strive for solidarity, to build the biggest and most powerful social force possible behind the only kind of rapid transition that can hope to inspire other countries and forestall the worst of climate change.
If there is to be swift, large-scale change in the US, a country with a political system practically built to prevent such things, it probably won’t look exactly like any of us want. In fact, the odds are against it happening at all. So this doesn’t seem like a time to be cavalier about the opportunities that do come along.
The kids are out there, organized, demanding a solution. Let’s try to give them one.
Heritage.org, “It’s Not Just About Cost. The Green New Deal is Bad Environment Policy, Too.” BY Nicolas Loris; liberty.edu, “The Green New Deal Would Harm Americans, Not Help Them.” BY Julia Heath. Investopedia.com, “The Green New Deal Explained.” BY Deborah D’Souza; theatlantic.com, “The Green New Deal Does Not, Strictly Speaking, Exist.” By Robinson Meyers; theguardian.com, “Muddled, top-down, technocratic: why the green new deal should be scraped.” BY Aditya Chakrabortty; vox.com, “This is an emergency damnit: Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture.” BY Davis Roberts;