Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Green New Deal is a Hoax

I have some very bad news for you. For all the talk about a 'Green New Deal', the entire discussion up to this point has been utterly pointless, and worse, even worthless. Why? The conversation has been about some vague, generalized aspirational goals. Net zero emissions. Millions of green jobs. Electrification of the transport infrastructure. Conversion to renewable energy generation. Etc.

These are great. Nothing wrong with them at all. But they are goals, not policies. They don't matter if you don't have a plan to accomplish them. Imagine you're a football coach. When asked about your game plan, you can't say 'we plan to win the game by having more points than they do at the end of the game'. That's not a plan, that's a goal. You need to figure out HOW to get more points, and therein lies the challenge.

The first problem is that climate change is a global problem. The US and Europe have actually significantly reduced their CO2 emissions over the last 20 years. The developing world? Not so much. Their emissions have increased, and increased, and increased again. This is reasonable as they build out an electrical grid and drive more automobiles. So it is absolutely true that the US could accomplish all the goals in the GND and still suffer the consequences of climate change.

The second problem is more political than practical - how much individual sacrifice are you going to demand? People love the GND in  the abstract, but if you ask them to pay six or eight dollars a gallon for gas they're going to throw you out of office. And any policies that actually accomplish anything like the goals set out in the Green New Deal are going to be huge, with massive budgets and bureaucracies, and that means raising a whole bunch of new revenue. Taxing the rich is popular, but once you've gone to that well you're going to have to tax everyone else when you need more revenue.

Also, while Climate Change is a real crisis, it's only one of many. In the US, we need to address health care, education and infrastructure today, and all that competes for funding sources with the GND. These are all emergencies, and they are going to have to be prioritized and managed. And it may not be politically feasible to pass and fund them all.

But, at this point, we HAVE to do something. We'll know we're making progress on that front when somebody steps up to lay out a set of concrete proposals and estimated budgets. And considering the firestorm Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sustained just by laying out a set of aspirational goals, that somebody is going to take a political beating. The fact that nobody is willing to do so is a grim reminder of just how heavy a political lift these policies are going to be.

At the end of the day, reducing GHG emissions requires very large changes in behavior, and the way you drive changes in behavior is by changing the incentives. When energy costs more, we'll use less - but despite the obvious reality underlying those kinds of policy changes, most people will balk when you force them to make those kinds of sacrifices. We're going to have to elevate this to a genuine, considered conversation that includes the 'bad news' before we can even find out how much we can get passed, and so far we're still at the starting line.

1 comment:

  1. I would say The Green New Deal is not bad news. The conversation has shifted from "That's impossible, there's no way to pay for it, and who could imagine a sustainable world?" to serious points that you make in this post about what it's gonna take by way of international cooperation and financing. I understand that we don't have much time for fucking around about this, but at least many of us are now seeing that our representatives in high places are moving toward a solution.