www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/02/green-new-deal-decisions-hinge-on-four-key-questions/ What’s in the Green New Deal? Four key issues to understandBy Dana Nuccitelli
[image: Puzzle pieces]
In the few weeks since it was introduced as a non-binding resolution before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Green New Deal (GND) Resolution
The nonbinding initiative introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Edward Markey (D-MA) proposes embarking on a 10-year mobilization aimed at achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. The mobilization would entail a massive overhaul of American electricity, transportation, and building infrastructure to replace fossil fuels and improve energy efficiency, leading some to call it unrealistic, idealistic, politically impossible, and “socialistic.”
Proponents of GND portray it as an early focus for meaningful climate policy discussion if political winds lead to changes in 2020 for the presidency and the Senate majority. They say the GND is the first proposal to grasp the scale and magnitude of the risks posed by the warming climate. And while begrudgingly accepting the insurmountable odds against full enactment before 2021 at the earliest, they see it as a worthwhile and long-overdue discussion piece.
Many commentators and policy analysts argue that the changes it calls for would be too expensive, radical, and disruptive. Others have argued
Critically, GND must be recognized as a non-binding “sense of the Senate/House” resolution. It is not intended as proposed legislation, and certainly not as a specific climate policy bill. Think of it as being more of a framework on which to build actual climate legislation. In effect, a “yes” vote in either the Senate or the House would signify acceptance of climate change as a sufficiently urgent threat to merit full consideration of an expansive 10-year mobilization to transition away from polluting fossil fuels. In addition, the resolution isn’t intended to be exclusionary: at least five House co-sponsors are also co-sponsoring a revenue-neutral carbon tax bill (the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act
Whether and exactly when the GND resolution will come to a full vote remains unclear, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will bring it to a vote in the Senate. It would likely pose an uncomfortable vote for those potentially vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2020 in “red” or coal-dependent states.
For Americans and their elected representatives, the decision whether to support this fundamentally transformative and sweeping resolution – provisions of which go well beyond those directly applying to climate change to include economic and social equity issues – hinges on four key factors. For politicians, the political considerations may weigh most heavily, but let’s deal with those last. Science and physical considerations
The first consideration is the easiest from a scientific perspective: How much more global warming can occur before its net physical impacts become unacceptably negative?
The science community’s answer is that we’ve already passed that point; that it’s time to act now. Regions around the world are already experiencing more and more severe extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, wildfires
A paper recently published in *Nature Communications* found that Atlantic hurricanes are undergoing more rapid intensification as a result of global warming. Sea-level rise poses a threat to coastal communities and island nations. The one-two punch of warming and acidifying oceans is killing coral reefs, which are home to 25 percent of marine life. The recent IPCC Special Report
In short, if physical impacts were the only consideration, we would want to halt (and even reverse
In a capitalist society, economic considerations are of course important to Americans. The projects involved in the GND mobilization would cost trillions of dollars, but curbing climate change could also prevent trillions of dollars in damages
The GND includes a proposed jobs guarantee, envisioning that huge employment opportunities would arise to bring about the needed infrastructure overhauls. The transition away from fossil fuels would also yield further economic benefits, in terms of costs avoided, by reducing other pollutants, leading to cleaner air and water and healthier Americans. A 2017 study
GND opponents counter that the economic costs of a vast 10-year mobilization would exceed the resulting economic benefits, but Stanford University researcher Jonathan Koomey suggests that we can’t predict
People, and perhaps in particular politicians, tend to focus most on these economic considerations (and often just on costs while ignoring resulting benefits) to the exclusion of the others. But it’s very difficult to quantify and involve numerous components – capital costs, avoided climate damages, increased employment, improved public health, etc.
In addition, some factors simply cannot be quantified in dollars. As Tufts economist Frank Ackerman has noted
Consider a family that loses its home in a climate-amplified wildfire or hurricane. Quantifying the costs of replacing the home and belongings is do-able, but how to account for the psychological trauma of the event and for psychological damages, let alone for lives lost?
Moreover, rebuilding the home will create investments and jobs, which would dampen a disaster’s impact on the national economy. But as a society, we would consider these traumatizing losses quite harmful and well worth preventing for ethical reasons. For example, one study
Researchers have found that those traditionally underserved and having the fewest resources are the least able to adapt to climate change impacts. A team led by James Samson reported in a 2011 paper
This reality makes it more difficult for some to justify an expensive green mobilization based solely on accounting for just this country’s direct national economic interests, particularly when focusing on short time horizons. However, ignoring the harm done by our carbon pollution to the most vulnerable people – both within and beyond our borders – raises daunting ethical and moral questions.
Moreover, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “To leave the world a bit better … that is to have succeeded.” That we are leaving behind a less hospitable world for our children and grandchildren might be considered our generation’s worst moral failure of all. Political considerations
Finally, given that climate policies must be implemented by policymakers, the question of what’s politically feasible is critical, and for some perhaps dispositive.
As of mid-February, the GND Resolution had been co-sponsored by 68 members of the House and 12 in the Senate
On the other side of the political aisle, such a large government-run mobilization is generally incompatible with traditional Republican Party orthodoxy, let alone with the President’s views as the titular head of the party. Unless the Democratic Party in 2020 retains its current House majority and gains control of the presidency and of a clear majority in the Senate, passing legislation will require bipartisanship. That’s particularly true in the Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and a two-thirds vote to override a presidential veto.
The current Republican-controlled Senate (in session until January 2021) certainly won’t consider actual legislation involving a vast government climate mobilization, although smaller individual infrastructure components might be considered. There may be growing support for a bipartisan carbon tax bill
To summarize, physical and ethical considerations generally support large-scale efforts to curb climate change as quickly as possible. Economic and political considerations are much less clear, and the relative weights given to each of the latter three are highly subjective. Some people will consider ethical considerations more important than economics and politics, but every individual’s values are different.
It’s critical to keep in mind that while steps to rapidly reduce carbon pollution will be expensive, so too would dealing with the effects of unchecked rapid climate change. In addition, most experts acknowledge that the challenges and costs of managing the adverse impacts of climate change will only increase over time – we can pay to mitigate the problem now or pay more to deal with its consequences later.
Those fearful that a 10-year overhaul of global transportation, energy, and building infrastructure would be too radical an undertaking will do well to seriously consider what magnitude and types of climate policies they would support. Government-funded projects to expand clean energy? Public transportation, trains, and electric vehicles? Improving building energy efficiency? A tax on carbon pollution? All could be considered components of the broadly-worded GND Resolution.
Ocasio-Cortez has suggested