Green New Deal critics can't see the forest for the trees

Green New Deal critics can't see the forest for the trees
Student activists with the Sunrise Movement occupy Nancy Pelosi’s office in November 2018, when she was House Minority Leader, to demand that she and the Democrats act on climate change. Credit: Shutterstock

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about the (new) Green New Deal. It's an ambitious plan to make America carbon-neutral —as well as more equitable —in a mere 10 years.

Although the Green New Deal resolution that will be voted on in the U.S. Senate is likely to be "soundly defeated," the broader debate that it has sparked —how best to respond to climate change —is not going to disappear any time soon.

The main champion of the proposal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is clearly more than capable of responding to her critics. But experts also need to weigh in, particularly because each of the key elements of the framework —including the core contention that governments must be the primary driver of the transition to a green economy —is backed up by an extensive body of academic research.

Some critics say the Green New Deal is too costly, and others have effectively responded to that argument. But what about the other common critiques?

It rejects mainstream economics

The mainstream economic solution to climate change is to put a price on carbon, for example through a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. This idea has dominated climate policy discussions at the domestic and international level for years.

The editors of The Economist lament that the Green New Deal doesn't emphasize carbon pricing. In their view, climate change is an example of market failure with an uncomplicated solution. To solve the problem, they say "governments need only include the social cost of carbon in the prices people pay."

Turns out, the solution isn't as straightforward as they would have us believe. For one, the carbon price has to be incredibly high and cover a broad swath of the economy to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governments haven't shown a willingness to do this and recent research suggests that even steep prices will not produce the deep emissions reductions required to limit global warming to under 2C.

This is not to say that a price on carbon has no role to play in a Green New Deal —and the Ocasio-Cortez proposal doesn't rule it out. The point is that carbon pricing isn't the only game in town and we shouldn't be shackled to it as our sole response just because orthodox economists prefer its "elegance."

It lacks focus

The Ocasio-Cortez resolution lists a number of objectives in addition to neutrality such as universal health care and stronger rights for workers.

Some view this "green intersectionality" as damaging to the fight against climate change. They argue that these other policy goals are irrelevant, costly and will weaken support for the plan. Others suggest, to the contrary, that it is politically savvy to link issues that voters clearly care about to the fight against climate change.

Author and activist Naomi Klein has eloquently argued why both sides miss the point. The prevailing view places issues into silos, and fails to grasp that the crises of inequality and environmental devastation are "inextricably linked —and can only be overcome with a holistic vision for social and economic transformation."

Again, research has long identified these links. Take for example, the much discussed job guarantee that provides a social safety net in the form of publicly funded "green jobs," such as insulating homes or environmental rehabilitation. This idea comes from the work of economists like Pavlina Tcherneva, and it fits with the broader notion of a "just transition" —the idea that the people who lose their jobs in the fossil fuel sector as a result of the transition to a should not be left behind.

It isn't green enough

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in 1933 to tackle the Great Depression, it didn't matter very much what the government invested in, as long as jobs were created. Theoretically, the government could pay people to dig holes and fill them in again. In practice, it aimed for public benefits from its investments, including reforestation and the expansion of the national parks system through the Civilian Conservation Corps.

It is much trickier to ensure that investments under the Green New Deal actually meet the goals of economic equality and environmental sustainability. There is a long history of "green" programs failing to live up to expectations. In fact, even the Civilian Conservation Corps was derided by many ecologists at the time for building roads in and planting tree monocultures, instead of a mixture of species, which provided less habitat for wildlife and left the new forests more susceptible to pests.

The battle lines are currently being drawn over whether the Green New Deal should include investments in nuclear power and allow fossil fuel combustion coupled with carbon capture and storage technology.

There are also more subtle issues to be aware of. It's fairly easy to greenwash large infrastructure projects, for example. A "green" electricity project funded by Canada's 2009 stimulus package was designed solely to provide cheap energy to mining companies, giving them access to a remote and previously pristine natural area. In addition, the vast majority of funds from Korea's 2009 Green New Deal went to a major dam project vigorously opposed by environmentalists.

Concerns about the greenness of the Green New Deal can't yet be dismissed: the devil will be in the details, and there is much work to be done in this regard. But in the meantime, the broader shift in the framing of the debate that the proposal has initiated should be recognized, and welcomed.

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Mar 03, 2019
Green New Deal has nothing to do with reducing emissions and protecting environment.
Otherwise, it would explicitly include hydro and carbon-free nuclear(proven technologies at reducing emissions), and exclude biomass, wind and solar (trillion-dollar fiascos in fight against Climate Change).
Biomass, wind and solar, have caused more ecological impacts/environmental damages than reduced emissions even after trillions of dollars spent globally; while hydro and nuclear are incontestable successes at decarbonizing the grids.
"The ones that went with nuclear and hydro decarbonized. The ones that went with wind and solar failed and keep failing."
"While nuclear and hydro are strongly correlated with decarbonization of energy at aggregated national levels, solar and wind are not."
"If you look around a little, you will quickly notice that countries with low CO2 emissions create this with a lot of hydropower, with a lot of nuclear energy or with a lot of both."

Mar 03, 2019
''slowly we inch towards the abyss '' , slowly we inch

Mar 03, 2019
The fact is, if anyone really cared about the environment, they would look into the issue of chemtrails. Instead, they simply declare, without proof, that chemtrails are necessarily normal contrails. The weather is changing, but it's not climate. If chemtrails stopped tomorrow, the atmosphere would be back to where it was in the '50's and '60's in no time. the evidence is that chemtrails are damaging the environment but are ignored because this is all a swindle.
For example, in the '90's, New York had a law requiring papers be bundled and left on the sidewalk for pick up. They would then be taken to recycling centers for money. Some men picked the papers themselves and got the money. They did what the city was going to do, they saved the environment, but they were arrested. Because the city was doing it only for the money themselves, not for the environment.

Mar 03, 2019
If Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocated a Bill to make it Legal, that the Sun rises in the East & sets in the West?

The misogynist toadies of fascism would have a screaming, hysterical hissyfit denouncing her of treason for requesting the US Congress to acknowledge a Scientific Fact.

Incompetent to judge even the most basic scientific evidence, the denierbots bleat their dismay with false innuendoes.
Matching their ignorance of how Bills are processed through Congress.

This level of stupid shows how poorly coded they are. Drunken russian programmer or dopedout saudi programmer. Doesn't really matter which puppetmaster is pulling the stings for the little prancing mannequins of willie & juli.

Mar 03, 2019
No, not chemtrails, but Ancient Aliens!!

The "History" Channel said so!

Mar 03, 2019
The forest is an abstract concept that doesn't exist concretely in reality - only the trees are actually real.

The forest is real only as you define it to be real - just like how the Green New Deal is a solution to a problem that is carefully defined to require just that solution. This is the problem of trying to marry social politics with environmentalism and economic issues - there are many ways to implement a sustainable economy, and different compromises can be made in terms of social, environmental, and technological policy to achieve equivalent results.

But if your point is making social politics first, then you have to preach a certain version. You have to define the forest just so.

Mar 03, 2019
Renewables work. They work for me. They are cheaper and cleaner than other options.

We need no long discussions.

Mar 03, 2019
gkam, You are being factual, reasonable & rational.

You bastard! The denierbots will not earn their 24 pieces of silver by letting you get away with that expression of individual choice & civic responsibility.

Mar 03, 2019
Some salient facts that the AGWites refuse to acknowledge:
They are no different than the religionists who believe in non-existent boogidy men.

Mar 03, 2019
Green New Deal idiots can't smell their ass for their mouth.

Mar 03, 2019
AOC doesn't practice what she preaches.

Mar 03, 2019
The misogynist toadies of fascism would have a screaming, hysterical hissyfit denouncing her of treason for requesting the US Congress to acknowledge a Scientific Fact.

"We're like, 'The world is going to end in 12 years if we don't address climate change,' " the progressive darling said in January, speaking of herself and her fellow millennials. "And, like, this is the war; this is our World War II."

It's like, I'm gonna save the world and it's like....

Mar 03, 2019
PHYS.ORG does not need these articles like these. The author Kyla is a self-described "activist" and completely politicized. Please take your preaching elsewhere.

Mar 04, 2019
well bart, with your usual spate of hypocrisy, once more you fail to follow your own advice,
I.m guessibg you sit there in your mommy's basement, chattering away. With your ears full of cotton so you don't have ti hear the inane, insane babble spewing out your cranial anus.

Oh yeah. You & the other bots, cantrip & auntieoral are going to have to agitprop a whole lot better, if you intend to collect your treason silver. Rubles or Riyal, doesn't really matter.

Mar 04, 2019
...with your usual spate of hypocrisy, once more you fail to follow your own advice,
I.m guessibg you sit there in your mommy's basement, chattering away. With your ears full of cotton so you don't have ti hear the inane, insane babble spewing out your cranial anus.

Your description sounds a whole lot like the bimbo barista. Some others would agree;

"Patrick Moore, the co-founder of the environmentalist group Greenpeace, ripped into New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the weekend as a "pompous little twit," saying the Green New Deal plan she's advocating is "completely crazy.""

Mar 05, 2019
Poor Patty Less, has to go where ever he can to get a headline these days. Abandoning his own duties to demand accolades.
While expressing jealousy at . with a boyish snit that Rep AO-C is getting on with her (elected) Congressional duties.

i.e. Attempting to clean up the corrupted mess caused by capita;ist vermin.

Your own hissyfit rant cant?
Is that she was one of a multitude of women, whose competent management of their successful campaigns to get elected to Public Office?

Overcame all your bot treasonous sabotage
You are angry because the Democrat Patriots were not appointed to their civic tasks by your fuhrer pimp putin. (may he suffer the same fate as stalin)

The collusion of russian & saudi agents to steal the election the whore trumpsterfire's crime family & all the lickspittle quislings in the GOP & NRA.

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