By Kim Robson:
Much hay is being made about a proposed set of economic stimulus initiatives put forth by freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). Dubbed the “Green New Deal,” its programs would address climate change, renewable energy, resource efficiency and economic inequality. Naturally, it’s very controversial. Many Democrats feel it’s too extreme. All Republicans are vilifying it, referring to it as socialism, government-enforced veganism; charging that it means tearing down buildings, no more hamburgers or cars or airline travel, and putting millions out of work.
With the alarming increase in the number, intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as wildfires, heat waves, blizzards, hurricanes and droughts, it’s refreshing to see anyone in Congress willing to propose real solutions. The GND is big, bold and far-reaching.
100% Renewable Energy by 2050
“meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”
According to the , renewable energy sources (hydroelectric, wind, biomass, solar and geothermal) currently stand at about 20% of U.S. energy production. Natural gas accounts for the largest share at 32%, coal at 30%, and nuclear at 20%. Without the GND, estimate that renewables will reach only about 31% by 2050. The GND goal is to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Upgrading the Electrical Grid
“building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity”
America’s electrical grid is a cobbled-together patchwork of smaller grids. The failure of a single substation at a critical juncture can throw entire states into darkness, just like the , when 55 million people lost power for two days. The GND provides funds for an upgraded electrical grid that makes use of technology to improve reliability and efficiency. This may cost hundreds of billions of dollars over twenty years, but would greatly improve our electrical infrastructure and security.
Upgrading Buildings for Energy Efficiency
“upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification”
While this obviously would be great for the green building industry, how it would be paid for is not specified — perhaps through tax credits or federal grants. A 2009 stimulus project paid $4.5 billion toward retrofitting federal buildings and $3 billion toward retrofitting public housing projects, which on electricity and water costs, according to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But those were only federal buildings. No one knows what it would cost to make allU.S. buildings “green”; it’s simply a goal to reach toward.
“overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail”
Federal tax incentives on electric vehicles are running out and haven’t been renewed. Better emissions standards have been torpedoed by the Trump administration. The GND would use tax incentives to encourage people and companies to retrofit transportation systems to be as efficient as feasible. Nobody’s going to be taking away our cars and airplanes — they’ll just be cleaner!
“removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation”
Here’s a radical idea: planting trees to combat climate change! Reforestation efforts have gotten underway in Israel, Europe and Brazil. The clear-cutting of Brazil’s rainforests has played a major role in climate change. This interactive from Carbon Brief shows countries around the world where is taking place. Other low-tech efforts could include protecting and rehabilitating wetlands, removing plastics from oceans, or creating of wildlife corridors.
Cows and Methane Emissions
“working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible”
Nowhere does it say we’ll have to give up hamburgers. We Americans love our steaks and barbecue. But cows, being ruminants, fart a lot. Cows alone are responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock emissions are responsible for 14.5% of TOTAL global emissions, according to the . Changing diets worldwide to be more vegetarian could contribute to 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures in check.
Job, Leave, Vacation and Retirement Guarantees
“guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”
Honestly, I’m not sure how achievable this rather vaguely-worded goal would be. What exactly defines “family-sustaining”? Would people get more if they had more children? What about taxes and benefits? Elderly dependents? Would both parents be required to work? Submit to drug tests? Rough estimates indicate the government’s total annual cost for such a program would be about $543 billion, far less than the Pentagon’s $674 billion budget or what we spend on safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security.
Strengthening Labor Laws
“strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors”
Discrimination is illegal, but this provision would integrate our patchwork of wage and labor laws across all fifty states. For instance, tipped workers like restaurant waitstaff earn a lower minimum wage, while some states have enacted higher minimum wages across the board. The GND simply would make wage and labor laws uniform nationwide.
“providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization”
If the public is going to pay for all of this change, the public should benefit from its investments. This passage strikes fear in many Republicans, who will call it a land grab. Let’s not end up like Venezuela, which squandered the riches of its state-run oil industry; or California, which is facing the bankruptcy of privately-owned public utility PG&E, and considering whether it should be made a public utility. The way in which the government owns things requires much more debate.
“providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization”
This would be costly, but look at it this way: the state already provides a free public education for all children from kindergarten through high school. That’s thirteen years.To include a 4-year college education would make seventeen years, an increase of 26.6 percent in number of school years paid.Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposes providing states with $47 billion per year to cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition for students at public colleges and universities. A new tax on Wall Street trades could finance the program.
“strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment”
Again, this part will be strongly opposed by conservatives. Unions have been declining in the U.S., down from 20% of wage and salary workers in 1983 to about 10.5% in 2018. Unions are strongest in the public sector and government workers.
Better Trade Deals
“enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections”
The main focus here is on labor and the environment. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) actually joined Trump in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it didn’t do enough for international workers’ rights.
Indigenous People’s Autonomy
“obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous people, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous people”
Mainly, this would address large-scale oil-drilling conflicts such as that in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or Standing Rock in North Dakota. This would shift preference regarding indigenous land rights and autonomy away from oil companies and back to the people it most affects.
Health Care, Housing, Security, Clean Air and Water, Healthy Food and Nature
“providing all people of the United States with — (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature”
This vaguely-worded section needs more clarification. Would the government kill the private healthcare industry in favor of “Medicare For All”? With all of their lobbyists in Washington, I doubt the health insurance industry goes down without a huge fight. Many of these things are already covered by the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA, the EPA and the National Park Service.
It’s important to stress that the GND is notpolicy, but rather a set of goals and ideals that any environmentally conscious person should accept. Industrial policy has always existed in the U.S. (and most developed countries) for much of its history. Only in the last 40 years or so have conservatives pushed for the privatization of industry, claiming that the government is broken and that we need billionaire industrialists to run our policy.
Because it is big and bold and far-reaching, the GND provides a catch-all for those who may be left behind. So, unlike Roosevelt’s Great Depression-era New Deal, which relied on land grants and trusts that largely favored industrialists, the GND’s decarbonization goals for electricity, transportation, industry and buildings are also paired with provisions funneling the benefits of public investment to the most vulnerable communities, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their income, can find employment and access to healthcare.