At the tail end of a draft Congressional resolution outlining something called a Green New Deal are these small requirements: providing all Americans with high-quality health care, affordable housing, economic security and access to nature.
Sure, no problem.
The Green New Deal is the brainchild of buzzy Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic newcomer who’s getting more attention than almost anybody else on Capitol Hill right now. Along with Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, AOC, as she’s known, has authored a Congressional resolution that, if adopted, would lay out principles for remaking much of the U.S. economy in the name of environmental protection.
Don’t panic. It’s just a vision document, which wouldn’t have teeth even if it did pass. And it’s not likely to pass. Republicans oppose it en masse, and a lot of Democrats are skeptical, as well. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derided the plan as “the green dream, or whatever they call it,” indicating that the boss isn’t impressed.
But portions of the Green New Deal could catch on, especially as Democrats look to counter President Trump’s regulatory rollbacks and other regressive actions on climate change. With an epic battle brewing in the Democratic party between leftists such as AOC and Bernie Sanders, and centrists hoping to appeal to Independent voters in 2020, the Green New Deal could become a litmus test of where various candidates stand.
So what’s in the GND? Quite a lot, and it goes far beyond environmental action. One goal is to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” in the US economy. But it also aims to “create millions of good, high-wage jobs” and “promote justice and equity” by “repairing historic oppression” of 12 categories of presumably oppressed Americans. In the military, they call this mission creep.
On environmental issues, the GND envisions a U.S. power infrastructure that is 100% fueled by renewable or zero-emission energy sources by 2030. Today, only about 37% of all U.S. electricity comes from renewables or nuclear power, which is generally considered “clean.” Fossil fuels still provide 63% of America’s power. So we’d have to make astounding progress in 10 years to reach the GND goals.
The GND would upgrade all existing buildings in the United States—every single one of them—with energy-efficient materials. It would reduce emissions from farting pigs and cows by “as much as is technologically feasible.”
Transportation would need to fundamentally change, since cars, transport trucks and planes are predominantly powered by petroleum-based fuel. There’s already meaningful development of electric vehicles and other alternative powertrains, but this would have to be massively accelerated under the GND. More people would have to use public transportation instead of a private automobile.
As side benefits, the GND would provide “high-quality education … to all people of the United States” and “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages.” If they’re high-quality, high-paid jobs, it’s not clear why they also need to be unionized, but maybe that’s to assure they fulfill another aim of the GND, which is a guaranteed job with paid vacations and retirement security.
Add in health care, affordable housing and access to nature, and you pretty much have … utopia. Plus a cleaner environment, I guess.
Nothing against Big Ideas. But Unattainable Ideas are the enemy of what’s practicable, and there are already plenty of reasonable ways to reduce carbon emissions, if only politicians would agree on them.
Carbon taxes are one sound idea, supported by elements of both the left and the right. Carbon taxes put a price on carbon, then allow the private market to decide the most efficient way to distribute the cost. Government can set the taxes high, in an urgent situation requiring rapid change, or phase them in, to achieve progressively greater emission reductions. Adopting more nuclear power is another proven way to lower emissions, but that requires politicians willing to convince voters this can be safe as well as clean.
President Obama tried to speed emission reductions in the auto industry by forcing carmakers to meet aggressive new mileage standards that got increasingly tougher over time. How they did it was up to them. That contributed to the rollout of electric cars and incentivized new research into other alternatives, such as hydrogen-powered vehicles. President Trump lowered those mileage targets after taking office, while relaxing other rules meant to safeguard against pollution.
As for guaranteed jobs, health care for all and the other grab-bag elements of the Green New Deal—fine in theory, lousy in practice. Completely absent from the GND is any explicit requirement for workers to look after themselves—to make sure they have the right training, live where the opportunities are and work their tails off.
The original New Deal came to be only because of the extraordinary hardship caused by the Great Depression. It was a last resort after other last resorts failed. We don’t face that kind of crisis yet, and we may never face it again. The real strength of the U.S. economy comes from innovation, which most of the time comes from imaginative individuals inventing new ways to solve problems. The government can, in fact, do things to encourage that. But giving everybody a job and a vacation won’t improve the economy. It might not even help the environment.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman