A lot is being made of the “Green New Deal” (GND), proponents on the left are heralding it as the solution to global warming and other economic issues, critics on the right are blasting it as socialism. The name “Green New Deal” harkens back to Franklin Roosevelt’s depression ear “New Deal.” Among the GND’s provisions are, zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2030 along with an “Economic Bill of Rights” which includes the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing and free college education. As we can see, the GND is more that just an infrastructure proposal, it’s an amalgamation of a number of separate ideas that, while worthy of consideration on their own merit, will make the GND plan difficult to get through Congress if proposed in its entirety.
At its heart, the GND is a proposal to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2030 converting the nation’s energy system from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energies that are publically, community, and worker owned. Proponents of the plan also envision that the end of our dependency of fossil fuels will allow for a cut in defense spending of 50 percent which, coupled with the cost saving from a reduction in emissions related illnesses, will allow the government to fund a single-payer health care insurance plan. To address the problem of workers displaced by the elimination of fossil fuels, the plan also calls for the government to implement “employer of last resort” programs that would be federally funded but locally managed and operated.
If proponents of the GND are serious about fixing the climate change problem, than broadening their proposal will doom its chances for passage. For starters, a good case can be made that our defense spending levels are excessive. We spend more on defense than the next seven nations combined, our navy alone has eleven times more aircraft carriers than any other nation. But our spending on defense is not due to the protection of our fossil fuel supply chain as the proponents of the GND suggest. Massive cuts in defense spending when there are genuine threats to our security from a resurgent Russia on NATO’s eastern border, from China in the South China Sea, and Iran in the Persian gulf will receive no support from Congress no matter which party wins the next election.
A second issue that will both distract and doom the GND (if kept in its current form) is the proposal to tie it to a single-payer health care financing plan. The idea that a cleaner environment will reduce health costs enough to finance a Medicare-for-all plan is, at this point, just wishful thinking. And the proposals for affordable housing and free college tuition look like mere after thoughts.
Where the GND is on more solid ground is the proposal for the government institute “employer of last resort” plans. Any massive conversion from fossil fuels to a more dispersed renewable energy grid would generate significantly higher unemployment levels in some communities while at the same time generating labor shortages in others. For this reason, “employer of last resort” programs would allow highly impacted areas to maintain full employment, and if constructed correctly, would guarantee that workers receive annual wage increases insuring a rising level of income over time.
But the biggest problem for the global warming-renewable energy portion of the GND is the unrealistic time table for converting to 100 renewable energies (no fossil fuels). There is no way that the auto industry could convert production to all electric vehicles and eliminate all existing vehicles with internal combustion engines in ten-years, not to mention retrofitting of building and power generating plants, and the apparently unsolvable problem related to air travel.
No matter what part of the GND Congress decides to tackle questions of financing will have to be addressed. President Trump’s tax cut has guaranteed that the nation will be running $1 trillion deficits for the foreseeable future. This leaves Congress with only two options if they’re going to act on some or all of the GND, increase deficit spending, or revamp our tax structure to increase revenue growth. Which option, if any, is chosen will hinge on who controls the Senate and House after 2020.
The GND with an emphasis on global warming needs to be promoted, but not as an all-encompassing plan, but as a set of separate ideas that candidates can agree or disagree with. In this way the pubic can vote for a Presidential and Congressional candidates whose policy positions on some subset of the GND most closely match their preferences.