Green New Deal: what is the progressive plan, and is it technically possible? | Environment | The Guardian

Green New Deal: what is the progressive plan, and is it technically possible? | Environment | The Guardian

The idea, central to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, aims to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution – but lacks key political support

The idea, central to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, aims to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution – but lacks key political support

Most US voters would support a “Green New Deal”, for the country to transform its infrastructure with a rapid shift to clean energy. But while the idea is gaining attention on Capitol Hill, it lacks key political support.

According to a survey from the Yale Climate Change Communication program, 81% of voters backed its description of a Green New Deal.

Similar plans vary in detail, but all are inspired by the New Deal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched to battle the effects of the Great Depression. The idea was central to the high-profile campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young Democratic socialist from New York who won a US House seat in November. Ocasio-Cortez and the youth-led Sunrise Movement are encouraging Democrats, who will retake the House majority in January, to produce a blueprint.

Their Green New Deal would center around creating new jobs and lessening inequality. Aiming to virtually eliminate US greenhouse gas pollution in a decade, it would be radical compared with other climate proposals. It would require massive government spending.

Dozens of Democrats have signaled support, including potential 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker. This month, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would launch its own Green New Deal, seeking carbon-neutral electricity by 2040.

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But Nancy Pelosi, Democrats’ nominee to run the House, has not agreed to direct a select committee on climate change to focus on the strategy.

Why now?

With Republicans in control of the White House and Senate, any climate change legislation would be dead on arrival. But supporters of a Green New Deal say Democrats need to lay the groundwork for a plan that could achieve what scientists say is necessary.

“If you’re starting to organize on it after you get into power, it’s too late,” said Sunrise Movement founder Varshini Prakash.

Scientists say the landmark Paris agreement on climate change, which the US plans to leave, is not strong enough to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures.

The earth is on track for 3-4C degrees of warming, which would cause sea level rise of several feet and make extreme weather more frequent and dangerous. The next four to 12 years are critical if the world wants to limit that warming. Waiting to reduce greenhouse gases will make the challenge harder.

So far, US government efforts to meet the challenge have failed, including an effort by Democrats for cap-and-trade and Barack Obama’s rules to reduce coal use, which the courts stalled and Donald Trump is rescinding. Republicans have largely opposed any substantial action. But a few have joined Democrats in backing a tax on carbon pollution.

How would it work?

The Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal would eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and other sectors within 10 years. It would also aim for 100% renewable energy and includes a job guarantee program “to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one”. It would seek to “mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth”.

Other groups have floated a more flexible vision. Greg Carlock, an energy expert writing for the group Data for Progress, proposed reaching 100% clean or renewable energy in 15 years, allowing more time to decarbonize other sectors.

Demond Drummer, founder of the New Consensus thinktank, said it was working on a plan that will require a reimagining of the whole US economy.

“You can’t address the climate crisis without these other issues being addressed as well,” he said. “The entire economy is built around fossil fuels. The same economy that creates rampant poverty and wage stagnation is the economy that’s built around fossil fuels.”

Is it technically possible?

With enough money and political will, the US electric grid could make major changes. Currently, the US gets 17% of its power from renewable energy and less than half of that is from wind and solar, the quickly growing renewable sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nuclear power, which uses mined uranium but is carbon free, makes up 20% of the grid.

Turning to all-renewable power would require large amounts of battery storage, for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The technology is not available but it is advancing.

Christine Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said decarbonizing electricity in 10 to 15 years would be “practically overnight in infrastructure terms”, even if policymakers allowed low-polluting technologies too. A mid-century goal would be more reasonable, she said.

Decarbonizing the rest of the economy would be “an even heavier lift, particularly given what we consider to be the absence of a bipartisan catalyst of any sort in the next two years”, she said.

Is it politically possible?

Right now, no. But proponents say that shouldn’t stop them pushing the envelope.

Republicans are unlikely to support any Green New Deal, which would require acknowledging the threats posed by climate change and increasing spending to avoid them. The proposal could be divisive among Democrats too. Much of it goes beyond addressing climate change and invokes more of the progressive platform.

While voters like the idea of eliminating greenhouse gases, they may not sign on for the costs unless lawmakers can definitively show a Green New Deal would stimulate the economy and improve their lives.

Tezak said she expects the country to remain divided in terms of how fast to cut climate pollution, because some places are more dependent on fossil fuels and would have a harder time transitioning.

Meeting the ambitious timeline would require “substantive action well before the 2020 election results are in” and “a strong swing toward very progressive policies”, she said.

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