Dear EarthTalk: What is the so-called Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and is Congress likely to go for it? — Mark Talarico, Brooklyn, NY
The concept of a “Green New Deal” (GND), first called for in a 2007 New York Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman, has been in the news lately thanks to a protest outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office in mid-November a week after the 2018 mid-term elections when Democrats took back the House. The goal of the GND is to put America at the forefront of green technologies to meet or exceed our Paris climate treaty commitments while boosting the economy and reducing economic inequality.
Think of it as like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original “New Deal” that helped get Americans back on their feet economically after the Great Depression through the creation of millions of federally-funded jobs that not only employed people but boosted U.S. economic productivity. The GND aims to give Americans a leg up in profiting off the transition to greener energy sources while simultaneously reducing the divide between the haves and have-nots.
At that November protest, hundreds of activists affiliated with the so-called Sunrise Movement showed up to call on Pelosi to back omnibus economic stimulus legislation that would put millions of Americans to work on facilitating the transition to an economy powered by 100 percent renewable, emissions-free energy. Later that day incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed her support by proposing the creation of a new House Select Committee on a Green New Deal tasked with detailing a “national, industrial, economic mobilization plan capable of making the U.S. economy ‘carbon neutral’ while promoting ‘economic and environmental justice and equality’.”
“There are so many different progressive issues that are important, and climate change and addressing renewable energy always gets to the bottom of the barrel,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept. “That can gets kicked from session to session and so what this just needs to do is create a momentum and an energy to make sure that that it becomes a priority for leadership.”
At least 45 House members have expressed support for the GND, while eight likely Democratic presidential candidates (including Jay Inslee, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) are also behind it. And with the majority of Americans favoring taking strong action against climate change even if it means higher taxes, implementing some of kind of GND seems like a no-brainer.
But environmentalists might not want to hold their breath. For starters, Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for the creation of a new House Select Committee on a Green New Deal won’t be ready for a full House vote until 2020. Also, just because 40 members of Congress are supportive now doesn’t say anything about where the other 395 Congresspersons stand, let alone the 100 members of the still-Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, conservative critics point out that a Green New Deal could actually hurt the economy more than help it given how reliant we are on abundant and cheap fossil fuels. Even some liberals worry that the GND is trying to bite off more than we can chew. Only time will tell if something like the GND will become the law of the land—and many greens are keeping their fingers crossed.
CONTACTS: Thomas Friedman’s “A Warning from the Garden,” https://goo.gl/zQ324A; Sunrise Movement, www.sunrisemovement.org; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ocasio-cortez.house.gov.
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In praise of the “Green New Deal”
By Joseph N. Sanberg
We’ve all seen the movie. Confronted with a menacing force that threatens the existence of life on Earth, humanity sets aside its national differences to unite around the common cause of saving the planet from annihilation.
Well right now, it’s really happening; we’re living through the scenario we’ve seen so many times before on screen. Except the force that threatens our existence isn’t an alien invasion—it’s climate change—and the response from mankind has been less that inspiring. So why hasn’t our species come together, in dramatic fashion, to save the day?
It comes down to money. Fossil fuel executives and the politicians they bankroll have presented a false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy planet. They’ve successfully framed the debate in the language of austerity and sacrifice, of poverty and suffering.
In short, too many of our leaders have come to believe that saving the planet will ruin the economy. In reality, it’s the only thing that can fix it.
As an entrepreneur who has devoted much of his adult life to ending poverty, I believe that the U.S. economy is fundamentally broken. Power and wealth are increasingly concentrated at the top, while many Americans are working longer hours, for less money and fewer benefits. For them, the problem isn’t finding employment—it’s that a job alone is no longer enough to provide for a family or even stay out of poverty.
That’s why I’ve spent the last four years working to expand and promote the earned income tax credit, or EITC. It is designed to encourage and reward work by supplementing the earnings of low wage workers, putting money directly back in the pockets of families who need it most – those among us who often work the hardest, but earn the least. In 2016, the EITC lifted about 5.8 million people out of poverty, including about 3 million children.
The EITC is widely recognized as the single most effective tool we currently have to alleviate poverty in the United States. Yet it’s still not enough.
If we’re going to unrig the system and make it work for everyone, we have to transform every aspect of the economy, and rebuild it from the bottom up. Luckily, the massive set of investments required to address climate change, called the Green New Deal, gives us an opportunity to do exactly that.
We’re talking about a full-scale mobilization of the economy—of both the public and private sectors—on a scale we haven’t seen since World War II, and with it, the opportunity to fundamentally shift the economic balance of power, strengthen workers’ rights, and create widespread prosperity for the 21st century.
Making the transition to a carbon-free economy is going to require a massive workforce. The Green New Deal would create tens of millions of jobs, from installing solar panels to retrofitting buildings, from manufacturing electric vehicles to reforesting public lands.
An emerging consensus among economists argues that only massive and sustained investment in the real economy, not stimulus or tax cuts, can raise stagnating wages and permanently revive American prosperity. And a comprehensive Green New Deal plan would include measures for encouraging unionization, supporting local business, worker ownership and co-ops, and for paying a living wage and even a true middle class wage.
If we can ensure that these are good union jobs that pay a living wage, with benefits and a reasonable work week, it will establish an effective wage floor and put upward pressure on wages and benefits across the economy. If employers want to compete for labor, they will have to reverse the trend of maximizing their own profits by giving workers less and asking for more.
To spur hiring and encourage growth in the private sector, particularly in the emerging green economy, we could create a supplemental ‘Green EITC’ to provide wage subsidies to employees at any company that is carbon-neutral. This would simultaneously make work pay better while giving those employers a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring, creating a demand-driven push for companies to achieve zero net emissions so that their employees would qualify.
Transitioning to a zero-carbon economy is also going to require massive public investments in everything from electric vehicle charging infrastructure to modernized mass transit and carbon-free public housing. It is critical that we avoid repeating the sins of the original New Deal, which in many ways served to perpetuate and exacerbate racial discrimination and inequality.
Rather than handing over funds to a handful of politically powerful and well-connected monopolies, we have to prioritize communities that have suffered from racial discrimination, those set to experience the worst effects of climate change, and the areas dependent on the fossil fuel industries that will have to be phased out. To further ensure that the Green New Deal creates prosperity well beyond the elite enclaves of New York City and Silicon Valley, we could use the model of Opportunity Zones to encourage private investment to do the same.
Finally, if we’re going to confront climate change on the scale that this crisis demands, we’re also going to have to drop the absurd notion that every government investment must be accounted for, dollar for dollar, with new revenue or cuts in spending. The bottom line is that when it comes to climate change, the most expensive thing is doing nothing.
Our politicians will continue doing precisely that, however, as long as they hold on to the false notion that saving the planet is bad for the economy.
The truth is that the Green New Deal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end poverty and remake our economy so that it works for everyone. We cannot let it go to waste.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph N. Sanberg is the Founder of CalEITC4Me and Co-Founder of Aspiration.com. This piece originally appeared in The Nation.
Opinion: The Devil Is in the Details
By Bill O’Keefe
The Green New Deal calls for replacing fossil fuel power production with renewable energy — excluding hydroelectric and nuclear — by 2030. While ideals are fine, the advocates of this agenda should have taken the time to calculate its practicality.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, the United States consumed 4,017,555 gigawatts of energy in 2017. A small percentage of that was from wind and solar. For the purposes of illustration in calculating the number of solar panels or wind turbines needed to meet the GND goal, the existing renewable output will be ignored.
The American Wind Energy Association calculated that 583,000 wind turbines would be needed assuming 2mw of output and 40 percent efficiency to replace existing power production. Others have estimated that actual efficiency is around 22.5 percent, which would significantly increase the number of turbines to more than 1 million, which is consistent with an estimate in the book “Nothing to Fear.” For 583,000 turbines, AWEA estimated that the required landmass would be about the size of Rhode Island — 1,045 square miles.
The AWEA estimate of 0.74 acres per MWh is much less than the average acres per MWh of existing wind facilities. Those range from a low of 34 to a high of 198. So, the actual land requirement is certainly going to be much higher.
The land requirement is even larger for solar installations. The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that 2.8 acres are required for 1 GWh of power. That translates into 17,576 square miles, or about the combined size of Massachusetts, New Jersey and Delaware to generate more than 4 million GWh.
The point of these calculations is that either wind, solar or a combination shows how daunting the challenge would be to acquire the acquisition of so much real estate. Acquiring the land and obtaining needed permits would be very time consuming. That makes the 2030 goal beyond wishful thinking.
The goal is even more unrealistic when cost is taken into account. The price tag for this goal has been estimated to be $15 trillion, or almost four times larger than the 2019 federal budget.
The rhetoric of the Green New Deal may make advocates feel virtuous but proposals that would wreck the economy and fail to deliver are anything but virtuous.
It is telling that, as the January 15 issue of The New Republic points out, “six of the largest, most influential environmental advocacy groups didn’t sign it (the GND letter to Congress): the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, Mom’s Clean Air Force, Environment America, and the Audubon Society.”
Even Al Gore and Tom Steyer’s NextGen America were absent.
Those significant omissions are telling and probably reflect as MIT’s Technology Review points out, “It’s an absurd strategy for rapidly and affordably reaching the low-to-no-carbon energy system required to limit the threat of climate change.”
ABOUT THE WRITER: Bill O’Keefe is the founder of Solutions Consulting in Midlothian, Va. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Analysis: Big-Name Democrats Support ‘Green New Deal,’ but Big-Name Environment Groups Don’t
By Michael Graham
New York senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand has joined the chorus of high-profile Democrats announcing their support for the “Green New Deal,” an aggressive (and expensive) proposal to de-carbonize America’s economy.
“The way I see a green economy is this: I think we need a moonshot. We need to tell the American people, ‘We are going to have a green economy in the next 10 years, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard, because it’s a measure of our innovation and effectiveness,’” she said on the “Pod Save America” podcast this week. Her representative said Tuesday that this is merely a reaffirmation on her previously-held position.
“Senator Gillibrand supports the Green New Deal concept and has been working for years on policies to aggressively combat climate change, protect our environment and create a green economy in communities that have often been left behind,” Gillibrand spokeswoman Whitney Brennan said.
But while Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke support the Green New Deal, some other big names are holding out:
The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Audubon Society.
When more than 600 green activist groups joined together to send a letter demanding public officials support the Green New Deal, six of the largest and most respected environmental organizations declined. And according to the New Republic, “Two green groups founded by deep-pocketed Democratic celebrities are also absent: Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Tom Steyer’s NextGen America.”
Why would establishment environmentalists like the Sierra Club and more radical actors like Tom Steyer decline to support a cause embraced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
“Speaking on background, some said the letter did not allow for enough flexibility on the details of a Green New Deal,” the New Republic reports. They objected to requiring signatories to oppose “market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, waste-to-energy and biomass energy.”
And then there’s the cost. While no definitive numbers exist, one estimate puts the cost of building the electrical generation capacity required alone at $2 trillion. And that doesn’t include the trillions in costs from mandating an end to all gas-powered vehicles, ending all oil exports and entirely shutting down America’s oil, gas and coal production.
In other words, the extremism of the Green New Deal is a step too far even for Al Gore. And, perhaps, Sen. Kamala Harris.
Despite calls from green activists like the Sunrise Movement — famous for organizing protests outside Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on the first day of the new Congress — the California senator has thus far declined to fully endorse the GND.
Harris’ representative says the senator is on board for the “goals of the Green New Deal,” but that doesn’t appear to be enough for the green movement in general.
“Having presidential candidates say they are supportive of the concept of doing something like the Green New Deal is amazing, but it’s not sufficient,” Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff to Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Examiner.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Michael Graham is political editor of NH Journal. He is also a CBS News contributor. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.