I’ve been meaning to write something about the “Green New Deal” for a while now, but it’s been such a vague concept that I wasn’t sure how to address it. Should I write about the letter to Congress signed by hundreds of environmental and liberal-leaning groups? Or maybe the Sunrise Movement’s grand strategy? It would be pointless to write about some fringe version of the movement, but I had no idea where the center was.
Thankfully, House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has produced a reasonably fixed target in the form of a non-binding resolution. Well, it’s sort of a fixed target. You see there was this FAQ, and then it got taken down and disavowed by Ocasio-Cortez, even though it was on her own website, and now she’s claiming that some of the copies of the resolution floating around are drafts, or even fakes… So I’ve gone through this post and checked all the quotes against the version on Congress’s website, and I think I got everything right. (I have in some quoted sections modified the text of the resolution to clarify the numbering system.)
The Green New Deal is not the first proposal I’ve seen to combine a response to the climate crisis with a jobs program (and other liberal causes), so it’s about what I was expecting.
Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—
(1) it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—
(A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
And a bunch of other things. There’s a schedule too, with a deadline based on climate predictions from last October’s IPCC report:
(2) the goals described in subparagraphs (A) through (E) of paragraph (1) (referred to in this resolution as the “Green New Deal goals”) should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization (referred to in this resolution as the “Green New Deal mobilization”) that will require the following goals and projects
I’m don’t have time to go over everything the GND proposes to accomplish in 10 years, but the main approach to stopping greenhouse gas emissions seems to be phasing out fossil fuels:
(2)(C) meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, including—
(i) by dramatically expanding and upgrading renewable power sources; and
(ii) by deploying new capacity;
If that was the only goal of the Green New Deal, it would still be a very ambitious proposal. As of last year, the United States was generating about about 85,000 GWh of electrical power each year through solar power. The United States uses about 4 million GWh of electricity per year, so the Green New Deal requires us to increase solar power generation 47-fold in ten years.
To get an idea of the scale of the project, this handy table suggests that the best case 2-axis concentrated photovoltaic technology will require 2.8 acres of land per GWh of energy per year. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows we’ll need about 17,500 square miles of solar power facilities — the size of New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined — to meet all of our current electrical needs.
That’s not completely impossible. We’ve already covered 6 times that much space with cities and towns, and we add almost 1600 square miles of urban area every year, so if we stopped all new urban construction and retasked everyone involved to building solar photovoltaic arrays, we could have the generating capacity finished in a little over a decade.
(Or maybe Ocasio-Cortez can get President Trump to back her plan by promising to build the solar power collectors in a 9-mile wide strip along the entire 2000 mile U.S.-Mexico border and call it the Trump Solar Wall. It sounds like something he would like.)
On the other hand, the Green New Deal seems to have something else in mind for our construction industry:
(2)(E) upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;
Megan McArdle at the Washington Post explains why this is nuts:
Homeowners tend to start renovations hoping to make their houses greener and more energy efficient, if only for reasons of parsimony. They quickly discover that what they lightheartedly imagined to be a few minor upgrades are in fact massive expenses. All they wanted was energy-efficient windows, better insulation, a tankless water heater, a radiant system to replace their (dry, noisy, inefficient) HVAC and . . . dear God, did the contractor misplace a decimal point? We’re updating a modest row house, not building Versailles!
Ceilings and walls must be removed, then replaced; fancy new equipment installed; ductwork rerouted; slabs perhaps broken and repoured; ancillary systems brought up to modern housing codes. Much labor is required; much homeowner patience and cash, too. And the older the building, the more expensive and disruptive the process, since decades of obsolete junk have to be ripped out, with all appropriate environmental remediation measures taken along the way.
Yet Ocasio-Cortez, or someone in her office, apparently thought those repairs could be made to every building in the United States within a decade.
As if that weren’t enough, the Green New Deal is includes massive changes to our transportation infrastructure:
(2)(H) overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove 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 transit; and
(iii) high-speed rail;
My gut reaction is that if we’re going to have zero-emission vehicles that don’t emit greenhouse gases, what is the benefit of having public transit and high-speed rail? You can’t get less than zero emissions. I guess the argument is that public transit and high speed rail will reduce the cost of converting the American vehicle stock to zero-emissions because we won’t need so many individual vehicles.
But building additional public transit in our crowded metropolitan regions is expensive, and high-speed rail is damned near impossible to build for anything like a reasonable cost. The closest thing we have to high-speed rail in this country, the Acela Express, takes 6.5 hours to make the 457 mile trip from Boston, MA to Washington, DC., which is not very fast by high-speed rail standards. The proposed bullet train in California, which is now projected to cost more than double its original estimates, appears to be in the process of being cancelled.
And if we’re going to use zero-emission vehicles, that means replacing internal combustion engines with electric motors, which will require an immense charging infrastructure and a lot more electrical generation capacity. The solar power collection facilities would have to be even more gigantic than those discussed above.
Meanwhile, even as we’re upgrading every building in the country, re-engineering our ground transportation systems, and building a solar collection array the size of Denmark, the Green New Deal would also make big changes to our agricultural industry:
(2)(G) working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—
(i) by supporting family farming;
(ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and
(iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food;
This goes way beyond fighting global warming, to include support for family farming, improving soil health, and something called “access to healthy food,” which makes me suspicious. (Why not just “food”?) I have the feeling “healthy food” means food other than what people have shown they want to eat. Or maybe it means “organic” food. Combined with a move to small family farms, organic growing would reduce the efficiency of our farm system, requiring us to place more land in service for growing food.
Here are a couple more items:
(2)(D) building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘‘smart’’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity;
(2)(J) 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;
I’m probably forgetting something, but so far Ocasio-Cortez wants to generate all electricity from renewable sources, upgrade the power grid, upgrade all buildings, replace most cars and trucks, build high-speed rail everywhere, make big changes to our agricultural industry, and plant big forests. All at once, all in about 10 years.
At least those projects are arguably somewhat related to energy efficiency and greenhouse gases. However, the Green New Deal goes on and on through a shopping list of liberal/progressive/leftist policies:
(1)(B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
(2)(K) restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency;
(2)(L) cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites, ensuring economic development and sustainability on those sites;
(4)(C) 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 that all people of the United States may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization;
(4)(E) directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities, and deindustrialized communities, that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;
(4)(F) ensuring the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level;
(4)(G) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition;
(4)(H) 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;
(4)(I) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment;
(4)(J) strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors;
(4)(K) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections—
(i) to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas; and
(ii) to grow domestic manufacturing in the United States;
(4)(N) ensuring a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies; and
(4)(O) 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.
My God, that list is amazing in its scope. You may or may not think that cleaning up hazardous waste sites, empowering unions, and providing family medical leave are good ideas, but they have nothing to do with climate change. Neither do universal higher education, community business ownership, or trade restrictions. (The resolution is so full of progressive wet dream policies that I’m kind of surprised no one slipped in a clause about abortion or Palestine.)
In 2010, Naomi Klein published The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in which she argued that the evil advocates of free-market capitalism have been taking advantage of national disasters in places like Latin America and Eastern Europe to spread their ideology. She called this “disaster capitalism.”
I bring that up because the Green New Deal is basically disaster socialism: The authors are using the climate crisis to stir people to action, to justify a massive government response, but then they are cramming a crapload of unrelated policies and social programs into their proposed response.
This is, by their own standards, reprehensible.
The opening sections of the Green New Deal resolution emphasize the dire consequences of continuing global warming. I can’t vouch for all the details, but I certainly agree in principle: Global warming is a crisis on a planetary scale. We’re already seeing evidence of adverse effects, and if CO2 levels continue to rise while we do nothing, the resulting climate changes will affect the lives of billions of people for thousands of years.
The authors of the Green New Deal argue that solving this crisis demands “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II.” Global warming is as bad as a world war, they say, and it needs a world-war-style response.
So why does so much of their proposed have nothing to do with global warming? Why is their response larded full of liberal social goals? If they are sincere in their belief that global warming requires a massive response, why are they siphoning off vast resources for other projects? If the fight against global warming is a world war, then they are war profiteers. If we are in a war against global warming, then they are committing treason by impairing our fight against it.
Or perhaps they aren’t treasonous. Perhaps they are merely liars, exaggerating the dangers of global warming to manipulate the public. Perhaps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is spreading climate alarmism for the same reason Donald Trump spreads alarmist stories about immigrant caravans. Perhaps global warming is just a myth that leftists use to push their agenda.
I don’t actually believe global warming is a myth. But after reading the Green New Deal, I find it easier to be sympathetic with people who believe it is, because it must seem awful convenient to them that the biggest proposal to fight global warming…is a giant wish-list of progressive policies.
And I find myself wondering…does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believe in global warming? She seems quite happy to use it as an excuse for everything in the Green New Deal, but if she really believed global warming was a disaster, wouldn’t she have proposed a better solution?