As Democrats flex their muscle in Congress and new presidential contenders join the fray to take on the embattled Donald Trump in 2020, the Democratic Party faces a mess of its own: the problem-riddled rollout of the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to address both environmental and social problems. It’s the first sign that, as many have predicted, the party’s lurch to the left may prove a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Green New Deal is a resolution co-sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, the Democrats’ charismatic rising star, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Its backers include several presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
One of its central goals is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to a net zero in 10 years. That means either no carbon emissions, or offsetting all emissions with carbon dioxide removal or with production of an equivalent amount of clean energy. The resolution also calls for an eco-friendly overhaul of America’s infrastructure, transportation system and housing, including “upgrading all existing buildings” for maximum energy efficiency. And there also are non-energy-related goals, including guaranteed jobs with livable wages and adequate family and medical leave, and full access to higher education for everyone.
Who will pay for this green paradise and how? Noah Smith, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist sympathetic to the Green New Deal’s goals, notes that it would have astronomical costs — and that the resolution and its accompanying documents say nothing about where to get the money, except to suggest that deficits aren’t too bad.
It also seems clear that the program would require not only massive spending but also massive federal intervention in the economy and in Americans’ lives (such as a shift from driving and air travel to high-speed rail). If the creators of this proposal were right-wing moles trying to boost the talking point that environmentalism is communism with a green face, they couldn’t have done better.
An editorial in the left-wing Nation magazine scoffs at those who dismiss the Green New Deal as too radical, arguing that times of crisis call for radical action. But are we really at such a moment? The original New Deal (leaving aside debates over what it accomplished) was certainly a major shift in American governance; but it was launched amid calamitous unemployment, poverty and social upheaval. The Green New Deal is a response to a future crisis expected to be caused by climate change — a crisis whose timing and extent are a matter of estimate and debate.
Obviously, it’s essential to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. But a realistic plan would include encouragement of new technological solutions to atmospheric carbon dioxide (most of it produced by other countries whose emissions the Green New Deal won’t curb). Many experts say it also would include nuclear power. The resolution says nothing about it, but the fact sheets released by the office of Ocasio-Cortez explicitly nix investment in nuclear power plants.
It doesn’t help that the documents posted on the congresswoman’s website included references to getting rid of airplanes and flatulent cows, as well as a call for guaranteed benefits for people “unable or unwilling to work.” It also doesn’t help that her staff initially denied these statements and then dismissed them as an accidentally posted early draft.
There is no question that environmental issues will have to be tackled in coming years. It will likely happen through a mix of private initiatives and public incentives. What we’re getting right now, it seems, is a mix of utopian idealism and incompetence.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.