Editor’s note: This is the first in a new weekly column scheduled to appear on HartEnergy.com on Monday mornings. Opinions of the author are his own.
When I decided it was time for me to start an opinion column I didn’t expect I’d end up jumping with two feet right into the climate change debate. But, here we are.
It all started when I spent a cold Houston night reading the full text of the “Green New Deal,” the impossibly ambitious wish list disguised as an action plan released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Feb. 7.
I’m not here to lambast the two sponsors of this proposed non-binding resolution. It’s doubtful that either one of them realistically believe that it will make any progress to policy as written. It’s likely this latest political manifesto merely serves as a catalyst for combining the environment, energy and social entitlement policy discussion within Congress and on the campaign trail in advance of the 2020 election.
But not even Nancy Pelosi could think this is a realistic way forward. Incidentally, the Speaker of the House got it right when she called it the “green dream” before backpedalling. Let’s just take that as a bit of shade toward the freshman Congresswoman and a less than rousing endorsement of the resolution from the leader of the congressional Democrats.
The real danger here is that all of this political showmanship is simply wasting time and detracting from real solutions to a really important issue. Many of those solutions are already in the works, enacted by the very industry Ocasio-Cortez and Markey seem to blame for everything from the Polar Vortex to poverty.
First, when it comes to climate change, we need to stop pretending it doesn’t exist. Anecdotal evidence of bitter cold nights in Texas and stifling hot days in Canada aside, there is plenty of real evidence that the earth is warming. It would be silly to pretend it’s not happening. So give Ocasio-Cortez credit for that. She’s certainly not putting her head in the sand.
It would also be silly to completely dismiss Ocasio-Cortez. Some of the notions put forth in the full text of the Green New Deal are valid. For example, renewable power won’t become a dominant source of energy until infrastructure enables it and consumers actually demand it. And, it certainly will take a sea change in American culture to build that demand and enact such a plan.
But that’s not the government’s job. Therein lies the bigger debate of big government socialism versus free markets.
With respect to the Green New Deal specifically, the transition to meeting "100% of power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources" by 2030 is tough to imagine. It will happen one day, but just not that easily. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who served under President Barack Obama. As pointed out by Ed Crooks of the Financial Times, a recent report Moniz co-authored with IHS Markit’s Daniel Yergin, which was commissioned by the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy, praised the idea of tying a low-carbon future to social equity. However, Moniz said sourcing 100% of America’s electricity from renewable energy in 10 years was “a practically impossible goal” that risked slowing the progress in cutting emissions.
We’ve already made significant progress in cutting emissions and most energy companies have chosen to stick to the Paris Accord goals despite the Trump administration’s stance. I’m not sure I understand where Ocasio-Cortez is coming from when I hear her talk of an industry that hasn’t done anything to address climate change for the last 40 years. That’s a head-scratcher.
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There’s also the cost. As a person who was raised in rural Western Pennsylvania, also known as former Democratic territory turned Trump country, I can tell you the chasm between supporting environmental policy and the prospects of spending money to get there is wide. Most of the people I know want solid climate policy but live in old houses and can’t even afford to switch from oil furnaces to natural gas or electric.
Granted, the Green New Deal attempts to address this through its jobs-for-all promise. As Noah Smith of Bloomberg points out, while the environmental parts of the plan might be manageable, the social aspects would spend the U.S. into oblivion. It’s hard to know an exact cost but some reported estimates put the cost of the social programs in the resolution in the neighborhood of $3.8 trillion a year. Not to go all Howard Schultz, but aren’t we already in big debt in this country?
Everything’s not copacetic on the emissions side of the equation either. How do we know? History.
As this Forbes article shows, Vermont legislators made a promise in 2005 to reduce emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2012, and 50% below 1990 levels by 2028, through the use of renewables and energy efficiency only.
So how’d it go? Vermont’s emissions rose 16.3%. That’s more than twice as much as national emissions rose during the same period, according to Forbes which cited EPA data.
Maybe Vermont failed in one of the most basic tenants of the Green New Deal, government management of energy efficiency? Nope. Forbes writes that “In 2018, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Vermont among the top five states for aggressive action on energy efficiency—for the fifth year in a row.”
I haven’t even begun to get into the issues Ocasio-Cortez and Markey face in implementing this idea as the U.S. population continues to grow and energy demand grows with it. Population growth is an issue I’ve long thought is overlooked by policy wonks so I’ll save that for another column as well.
There’s also the Asia factor, where demand for natural gas is growing. I think it’s sometimes hard for American politicians to remember that energy isn’t only an American industry. Climate change isn’t only an American and European problem. If North American drillers aren’t responsibly taking oil and gas out of the earth to feed that demand while cutting methane emissions other countries such as Iran and Russia will continue to drill largely unchecked.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s wrong with this idea. We’ll have plenty more to come in this column and on HartEnergy.com as we continue to take a closer look at the resolution's details and intentions.
One final request for today: we’ve built HartEnergy.com as your site, too. We want to hear your thoughts on the Green New Deal and climate change policy in general. So open up the comments and tell us your thoughts. You can always talk to me on Twitter as well, @LenVermillion, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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