In addition to the nonbinding house resolution on the Green New Deal (GND), a document was circulated with more specific action items, which have caught media attention. This is where media outlets have gotten headlines such as “Green New Deal Wages War Against Air Travel, Cows,” and “Democrats’ Green New Deal Wants to Eliminate ‘Farting Cows’.” This document has since been retracted as it appears to be more of an internal memo than a publication-ready plan, at least judging by the informal language and formatting. It does, though, answer many of the questions raised by their nonbinding resolution, which paints with broad strokes. Here’s a brief summary of the key questions, answers, and the institute staff’s position. In short, we’ve been advocating for much of what the GND calls for — and more — since before the institute’s beginning.
How deeply will this plan be felt by society?
The GND proponents equate this to JFK’s moonshot, Eisenhower’s interstate system, and FDR’s depression and war mobilization. They cited the high return on investment of these programs (where many more dollars were generated as a result over the initial cost). This would affect everyone in the country either directly through infrastructure jobs or indirectly through vastly reducing our use of fossil fuels in our everyday lives.
LTI’s founder, Scott Johnson, called for this in his last book, published three years ago (emphasis added):
Inverting our cultural values is a Sisyphean task but many small changes can make a difference. We cannot consume our way out of this crisis, but we can all change our purchasing habits and how we view those who waste our collective resources by over consuming. If, for example, gas-guzzling luxury vehicles were viewed with contempt for their wastefulness instead of envy, those buying them would seek a more socially responsible way to demonstrate their status. Since the Second World War, we have not had a global need for sacrifice and have grown complacent. It is time for us to acknowledge the advantages we have derived from overabundant energy consumption and exchange quantity for quality.
What types of energy would be supported under the GND?
The plan calls for eliminating fossil fuels (gasoline, natural gas, coal, etc.) as well as nuclear from transportation and energy generation through the phase-out of existing plants (the GND “makes new fossil fuel or nuclear plants unnecessary”). The long-term goal is 100 percent renewable, whether or not that can happen in 10 years (here’s an article that argues it could be done by 2040).
LTI would go a a step further, as this GND document is too short to discuss the energy reduction that would be needed. Here’s the fuzzy-math argument. The sun provides a finite amount of energy per square meter of earth (about 1,000 watts). We can’t capture all of that energy. Fossil fuels are hundreds of thousands of years of accumulated solar energy stored in ancient biomass. That is why they embody so much energy. We can’t capture enough energy to make up the same amount of power as the fossil fuel we currently burn. Even with wind, hydro, and other non-emitting energy generation, we’re going to have to cut back. The document does talk about retrofitting existing infrastructure and building out the electric transportation network, and these are good steps, but we can’t just electrify everything and continue living as we are.
What about a carbon tax or cap and trade?
The GND document rejects both a carbon tax and cap and trade ideas. They point out that a carbon tax is passed on to the consumers and this disproportionately affects the working and middle classes, who would have to spend a greater portion of their income to fuel their cars and homes. Also, if the carbon cap was set low enough to make a difference in climate change comparable to the GND, it would ruin companies and the economy, whereas the proposed plan would spur new infrastructure and construction. They point out that the free market cannot solve this problem. Finally, the amount of money needed for a complete overhaul of our infrastructure can only come from the people.
We agree with this assessment: carbon taxes hurt the consumers, especially those of restricted means and the free market cannot get us out of the problem because the free market is linked to the rise of this problem. As our current economy is based on the “infinite world” model, it cannot function indefinitely on a planet with finite resources.
The plan calls for net-zero emissions, millions of created jobs, infrastructure investment, the repair of social injustices, and clean ecosystems, communities, and food. This would be realized through many projects, including: repair and upgrade existing infrastructure including buildings, roads, farms, and others; 100 percent power through clean and renewable sources; distributed electrical grids; creation of clean manufacturing; reducing of climate-related health effects; and restoration and increase of natural carbon sinks like forests and prairies. While doing this, the programs should ensure that social and environmental costs are taken into consideration, provide job training, support research and development, use democratic processes for decision making, guarantee a family-supporting wage, strengthen and enforce worker safety laws, protect public lands, work honestly with indigenous communities, hamper unfair economic actors and monopolies, and ensure healthcare, housing, security, and clean environments for all.
All of these are sound proposals on the surface, LTI encourages more action on the local level: individual-, household-, and community-scale projects. Nation-wide projects are great but can feel alienating or far-removed from our day-to-day lives whereas local efforts can be seen and felt directly by the people involved. A neighborhood biodigester to create clean-burning gas that is less harmful to the environment than simply composting organic matter, distributed electrical grids built and repairable by the people that use them, and community or household flocks of animals and crops are palpable examples. Also, this localized approach appeals to the “rugged individualism” that is prized in rural areas, such as ours, unlike many nationalized approaches.
Of course climate change is an all-hands-on-deck emergency. If we can have a nation-wide overhaul of our energy, transportation, and food infrastructure along with localized efforts to change the way we live on this planet, we might have a fighting chance at a different but sustainable tomorrow for our children.
Disclaimer: The Low Technology Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and educational organization and as such is banned from directly endorsing any legislation or politician. We can, however, “consider public policy issues in an educational manner,” which is the goal of this series. Relevant IRS information here.