To attempt to explain how the Legislative Branch of American government works would be a Herculean task and best left to a political scholar. But for all its many faults and vast dysfunction, it chugs along. Occasionally, a high-profile piece of legislation pops up that both electrifies and polarizes people. One such piece of legislation is House Resolution 109 and Senate Resolution 59, sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. More colloquially known as the Green New Deal.
For progressive Democrats, this was the manifestation of the second coming. For Republicans, this was a sign that the dark lord has risen. The truth was that the Green New Deal is neither.
What’s lost in all this hullabaloo is that the Green New Deal is simply laying out a to do list. A list for the country that’s responsible for 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (that’d be the United States) to take the lead in order to help save the world from certain doom. Think of it
- as writing a broad and sweeping to do list you wish to accomplish over ten years:
- achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions;
- establishing millions of high-wage jobs and ensuring economic security for all;
- investing in infrastructure and industry;
- securing clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all;
- promoting justice and equality.
Now, imagine you took that to do list home and your partner yelled at you, loudly, for an extended period. That’s what’s happening with the Green New Deal.
The GND is important but presenting this was the first step in a long and arduous process through the American Legislative branch of government . . . and in both the House of Representatives and the Senate the GND was cursed and swatted away like a pesky mosquito.
Nonetheless, the Green New Deal continues to get press because the election cycle is heating up. Republicans call it blasphemy and continue to decry the legitimacy of the science. Meanwhile, Democratic hopefuls, like Joe Biden, look to water the GND down to attract progressives and as a half-hearted attempt to unify the party. Other candidates, like Beto O’Rourke, will simply draft their own.
But it appears as though Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Green New Deal co-sponsor, is not having any of that.
Even though the Green New Deal is still evolving, there is still a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about what it is. So, let’s look at five common misconceptions about the Green New Deal.
1. Does it eliminate nuclear energy? No. The plan calls for a transition away from nuclear energy and a “massive investment in renewable energy”. The plan states “It’s unclear if we will be able to decommission every nuclear plant within 10 years but the plan is to transition off of nuclear and fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
2. Will the GND bankrupt the US? No. While it will cost a great deal (estimates have it in the 93 trillion-dollar range), it will not bankrupt the country. In fact, it may prove just the opposite. For example, it may cost 500 billion dollars to upgrade the electrical grid, a modernized electric grid will ultimately yield a profit. It may cost a lot initially, it will end up saving money in thirty, forty or fifty years.
The Green New Deal is a long play which is not something the U.S., or capitalism, is known for.
The next question then becomes, who will pay for it? Well, the same way America always has. “Congress would approve necessary spending and Treasury will spend it.” So, the short answer is, we all will . . . with a slight difference. With the Green New Deal, all American would have an ownership stake.
Economic power is wildly unequal and the GND hopes to re-calibrate the scales. It calls for legislation that “ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and return on investments.” It also urges that the U.S. have “resources, training and high-quality education . . . with a focus on vulnerable communities, so that all people of the United States may be full and equal participants. . .” The GND also calls for “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers. . . and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers. . . “
And finally, since there is no “raising money to pay for it”, it’s the congressional approval that brings the money into existence: the more pertinent and threatening question is whether one feels the working class and poor should share the table with the rich and powerful in determining the future of humanity and Earth.
3. What’s this about hamburgers and being unable to fly? Nonsense. That’s reductive hyperbolic rhetoric meant to belittle the deeper issues of the Green New Deal. Yet, both still important issues.
Firstly, the hamburgers. Factory farming is responsible for about 9% of America’s greenhouse emissions (you’ll remember America is responsible for 20% of global greenhouse emissions, so that is almost half). Of that 9%, about 4.5% is from animal agriculture and almost all the emissions from animal agriculture is from animal flatulence and burping.
And cows do most of that. But that’s not just a problem in the U.S. “More than two-thirds of global emissions of the livestock industry are due to cows – not just their farting and belching, but their endless eating.”
Any comprehensive climate change idea must account for cows and reducing their population is one solution. It doesn’t mean “taking hamburgers away” it means making them a little harder to get and thus more expensive. In fact, scientists agree that a global reduction in meat intake could potentially cut global greenhouse emissions by 50%.
Secondly, the flying. Flying in airplanes will not be illegal if the Green New Deal ever weaves its way into law. The resolution promotes a move towards high-speed rail as a part of “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation section as much is technologically feasible.”
The GND has a goal of zero-emission vehicles with an increased commitment to public transportation and high-speed rail is one way to achieve that. This is far from a novel idea. In Japan, the Shinkansen high-speed train covers a distance similar from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2.5 hrs. During peak hours, trains run every 10 minutes. That line was built in 1964.
Experts agree that airplanes are hard to decarbonize and attribute the recent rise in U.S. emissions in part to a spike in air travel.
In short, no, the Green New Deal has no plan take away your hamburgers and no plan to abolish air travel.
4. Is Medicare for All part of the Green New Deal? No. They’re often lumped together by Republicans. While they are both prominent parts of the progressive agenda the GND only calls for “high-quality healthcare” for Americans.
However, progressives are sometimes to blame for this confusion. They presume that universal health care would be part of a commitment to environmental justice, which is a fair presumption. But that’s not guaranteed.
To consider Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as anything other than complimentary programs would be a stretch.
5. No one is interested in the Green New Deal. Not true at all. A report by Data for Progress found that the policies contained in the GND are, in fact, quite popular. Regardless of cost. They found that the GND “. . . has similar levels of support when voters are told it will cost $100 billion as it does when it costs $1 trillion. . .it’s less expensive than a climate catastrophe.”
In a similar survey conducted, over 50% of the people in all but six states support the Green New Deal.
The only areas of the Green New Deal that have universally negative scores are the transition to electric only cars by 2030 and the closing of power plants by 2035.
What shouldn’t be ignored is a report from the Public Accountability Initiative in February of 2019 that found the usual suspects against the Green New Deal, Republicans and fossil fuel companies. According to the report, since 1990, 81% of all oil and gas industry federal donations have gone to Republican candidates and PACs (Political Action Committee’s). The party has consistently and unabashedly sought to roll back regulations and expand fossil fuel production at the behest of their benefactors.
Perhaps more tellingly, the story of New Green Deal awareness and support may be the story of the current state of American media. According to a recent study by Media Matters for America, Fox News discussed the Green New Deal more often than CNN and MSNBC, combined.
In some political circles, support of the Green New Deal or a belief in the science of climate change would mean you must be considered a pessimist. In what must’ve been the spirit of optimism, soon after taking office in 2017, the Trump administration removed President Obama’s Climate Action Plan from the White House website. The administration choosing to embrace a less threatening point of view. Much like like the Virginia legislature did when they banned the term “climate change”, saying that it must be replaced with phrase “recurrent flooding”. Which is only marginally better than the North Carolina legislature who passed a bill requiring science on rising sea levels to simply be ignored.
Back in October 2003, the Pentagon issued a report titled “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States Security”. It’s a far from sanguine report about the impact of climate change on the future. The report bleakly concludes “Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.”
While there remains much debate to be had on the Green New Deal in order to move it along in the legislative process, politicians on both sides will no doubt continue to opine about it as we march towards the presidential election. And perhaps closer to the end of the world.