Spring is here, and the U.S. Senate, appropriately enough, is preparing to vote on a resolution for the “Green New Deal.” But what exactly would it do?
A lot. The Green New Deal proposes sweeping changes to America’s energy, transportation, agricultural and manufacturing sectors. The purported objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activity by 40 percent to 60 percent (from 2010 levels) by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. But it lacks specific details as to how to accomplish that goal.
No matter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to see where the upper chamber stands on the issue. Although the vote he has called for is procedural and the resolution is nonbinding, it’s an important litmus test for each senator’s position on the Green New Deal.
On the surface, the Green New Deal may sound appealing. However, the economic pain it would inflict and the power it would concentrate in Washington are anything but appealing.
Do you want the federal government to control what kind of car you drive and what type of energy you buy? Because the end goal of the Green New Deal is to eliminate the use of coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and the internal-combustion engine.
These energy sources provide 83 percent of America’s electricity and 92 percent of the transportation fuel market. So the costs of a green transformation would be astronomical. And pricier electricity and gas adversely affects low-income households disproportionately because they spend a higher percentage of their budget on energy.
The costs would extend well beyond the higher prices families will inevitably pay when driving their kids to soccer practice and air conditioning their homes in the summer. Higher prices squeeze both the production and consumption sides of the economy. As a result, businesses will past costs onto consumers, shed jobs and invest less.
Think of all of those union jobs lost in mining, refining, pipe-fitting and welding. The AFL-CIO, which represents 55 different unions and 12.5 million workers, sure is. They recently sent a letter to the champions of the resolution, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey warning that: “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and let threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standards of living go unanswered.”
Granted, a massive tax-and-spend program will “create” jobs by building wind turbines, installing solar panels and building electric vehicles. Yet government spending does not actually create jobs; it merely shifts resources to politically connected sectors of the economy and away from more productive uses. Overall, the number of jobs destroyed would far outweigh any subsidized jobs created.
Let’s not forget President Barack Obama’s warning about the costs of his cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over a decade ago. To meet the carbon-dioxide reduction targets, he said, electricity rates would “necessarily skyrocket.” According to one FAQ sheet on the proposal, cap-and-trade “may be a tiny part of the larger Green New Deal plan to mobilize our economy.” To fulfil the obligations of the Green New Deal, the economy would necessarily have to tank.
The reality is the Green New Deal is less about controlling the climate and more about the federal government controlling major aspects of economic production and decisions in your life. After all, if a climate change-induced crisis were 12 years away, one would assume nuclear power would need to be an integral part of the solution. In 2017 nuclear provided more than half of the country’s emissions-free electricity, more than triple the amount we get from wind and 18 times more than solar generation. But, according to the now-deleted FAQ sheet from Ocasio-Cortez’s office, “The Green New Deal makes new fossil fuel infrastructure or nuclear plants unnecessary.”
Economic costs and hypocrisy aside, the Green New Deal would be ineffective in slowing global warming. In fact, the U.S. could cut its carbon-dioxide emissions 100 percent, and it wouldn’t make a difference in averting temperature increases or sea level rise.
Using a model developed primarily with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, climatologists estimate that eliminating all of America’s CO2 emissions mitigates global temperatures a mere 0.11 degree Celsius by the year 2100. With the overwhelming majority of emissions coming from the developing world who see energy poverty as more pressing threat, U.S. action is meaningless.
In other words, the expensive energy, lost jobs, expansion of government power and opened flood gates of corporate welfare and cronyism would all be for a change in the earth’s temperature that’s barely measurable.
Sound like a good deal to you?
An economist specializing in energy and environmental policy, Nicolas Loris is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.