How Green a Deal?

When I was a leftist radical some decades ago in Berkeley, I joined in many late-night to early- morning discussions about the woes of the world. The Vietnam War was raging, we were all subject to the draft and none of us were old enough to vote. Air pollution and water pollution were a plague and the main ecological worry was the impending mini ice age.

Although my memories have faded, I’m certain that after each marathon session we had discovered an answer for every issue. There was just one problem. We forgot to write them down.

Finally, someone remembered to write it all down and now we have all the solutions in a document titled, H.RES.109, which recognizes the “duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.”
HR 109 represents a preview of the platform that will likely emerge at the next democratic national convention. Powerfully, it is drawing traditional democrats, liberals, socialists and progressives around one monolithic centralized social and industrial plan.

Pessimists and naysayers complain about four aspects of the deal. Is it technically feasible? Can it be done in ten years? Is there a way to pay for it? And, last, is it politically viable?

Technical feasibility

Technical feasibilityMany of the articles I’ve read focus on grid technology. They write about “governor response”, inverters and synthetic inertia. All this to make the relatively obvious point that solar panels and windmills are subject to the vagaries of the weather.

We do have, however, examples of almost zero carbon footprint households as evidenced by the photo nearby from northern Kenya. We are admittedly discounting the impact of their herds of ruminants and the attendant flatulence, but compared to the average American, these people are already living the green new deal. Is it feasible? Yes, it is.

Timing

Ten years seems much too short to transition a $20 trillion economy involving 325 million people. Advocates have pointed out that with the political will and national organization almost anything is possible. According to James Hackner of the University of Sussex, France was able to shift its electricity supply to 40% non-fossil fuels in only 12 years from 1970 to 1982. What was their solution? Implementing a rapid, government driven, expansion of nuclear power. Unfortunately, a quick search of HR. 109 did not turn up any references to nuclear power. Today, the U.S. gets only 17% of its electricity production from renewables. We have 83% to go.

Financing

There is not much agreement on the cost of this program. Estimates range from $51 trillion to $93 trillion. The energy component is a mere $8 to $12 trillion. Even the “free college” aspect is a modest $70 to $100 billion per year. The real cost kicks in with free health care and universal income guarantees.

No matter what the cost, according to the authors, the financing of the plan is a trivial matter. “The U.S. government can never run out of dollars, but humanity can run out of limited global resources.” according to Stephanie Kelton, professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and former economic adviser to Bernie Sanders. The good professor is correct. Zimbabwe never actually ran out of Zimbabwean dollars and Venezuela is still printing Bolívars today. (It seems that monetary economics is not a favored discipline at Stony Brook.)

Political Viability

One of the key challenges for the proponents of the Green New Deal is convincing the public that this should be the national priority and that it should carry a sense of urgency similar to FDR’s New Deal and WWII. FDR had some significant advantages in bringing the public into alignment. The most obvious was the crushing impact of the depression on virtually every household. Then there was Germany’s defeat over France and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, at which point the national priority was pretty clear to everyone.

With a simple and clear objective, a movement can have a dramatic impact. In 1971, it was end the war, stop the draft, and get the vote. By 1972, I was proudly marking my ballot for George McGovern. In 1973, the draft was halted and the next year the American role in the Vietnam War ended.

The Green New Deal is not simple. It calls for vast changes to almost every aspect of the economy and society. As they say, the bigger the program, the more difficult the sale.

Looking at the green aspect of the deal, the public has never really bought into making action on global warming a high priority. When asked directly, a large majority will express worry or concern about the effects. Yet, when asked to rank national priorities, climate change typically never ranks higher than fifth.

Among our esteemed representatives the situation is even worse. Recall that the Kyoto Protocol was voted down in the Senate 95 – 0. The more recent Paris Climate Accord garnered zero votes in the Senate as the Obama administration preferred to avoid a public rebuke. The unfortunate side effect of this circumvention was that there has never really been a national debate on the topic.

Perhaps now, with a vote on House Resolution 109, the essential political debate will begin.

-Jim Anderson
Send comments to j.evert.anderson@gmail.com

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