We are hearing a lot about a Green New Deal these days, thanks in large part to upstart Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The name itself was first proposed by Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in an op-ed piece dated April 15, 2007. The fact that it was published on what for most Americans is “tax day” was no accident. The Green New Deal, among other things, calls for a sweeping reform of taxation in America, particularly with regard to how to pay for the transition to a zero carbon society.
Ocasio-Cortez has brought the whole idea forward in the past few days with a bold plan to transition America — and by extension the entire world — to 100% renewable energy in just 12 short years. To pay for it, she proposes raising the income tax on the wealthiest Americans to 70%. That’s crazy talk, isn’t it? Actually, no, it is not. In fact, according Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, it’s an idea that has wide acceptance among many top tier economists.
What is a Green New Deal Exactly?
As the Great Depression in the United States dragged on year after year, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a sweeping agenda of new legislation designed to get the economy growing again. It featured a wide range of social programs designed to provide American citizens with some measure of protection from the vicissitudes of the free market system. It gave people jobs and built things like the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. It also introduced Social Security and a plethora of new government regulations designed to tame the worst abuses of capitalism.
The Green New Deal is designed to replicate that initiative and combine it with the national commitment John F. Kennedy crafted when he challenged America to put a man on the moon. The result would be the most powerful social and economic transformation in the history of the world.
According to Wikipedia, the Green New Deal has the following elements:
- Government-led investment in energy and resource efficiency, as well as reusable energies and microgeneration
- Low-carbon infrastructure redevelopment in order to create jobs
- A directed tax on the profits of oil and gas companies with proceeds being invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency
- Financial incentives for green investment and reduced energy usage, including low interest rates for green investment
- Re-regulation of international finance, including capital controls, and increased scrutiny of financial derivatives – likely along the lines of Basel II
- Curbing corporate tax evasion through compulsory financial reporting and by clamping down on tax havens
What’s The Big Hurry?
It is no coincidence that Ocasio Cortez is calling for such a rapid transition to a zero carbon economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its 6th report last October. In it, IPCC warned that humanity has only 12 years to fix its carbon addiction or face unimaginable consequences as a series of cascading events create a scenario worse than any horror movie.
3 months have passed since then with no significant action taken. That means we are down to 11 years and 9 months before we are waist deep in a full fledged climate emergency. We need to build a bridge to the future now and that is what Ocasio-Cortez is proposing to do. By taking that stance, she is positioning herself as perhaps one of the few adults in the room when it comes to addressing the impact of a warming planet.
Build Bridges Not Walls
The situation is analogous to the one the Apollo 13 lunar mission found itself in as it struggled to get the crippled spacecraft home safely. A room full of experts is having a raucous debate about the best way to proceed when one engineer walks in on the meeting and announces that the determining factor will be electrical power. Pointing fingers, playing the blame game — nothing else matters if there is not enough power to launch the parachutes that will slow the capsule enough to prevent it from slamming into the ocean at several hundred miles an hour, killing everyone on board.
For the Earth, it’s all about carbon emissions. Nothing else matters. Not class distinctions, not national pride, not how wealthy a person is, and not what religion someone believes in. Carbon emissions must be tamed now, today, this instant if humanity has any hope of avoiding the destruction of the Earth and virtually every form of life in existence today.
The similarity between the Apollo 13 mission and the current situation on Earth was driven home for me recently while reading Bill McKibben’s 2010 book Eaarth. On page 2, he describes how one of the most memorable photographs of all time was created and what it meant to those on board. As Apollo 8 was circling the moon for the first time, Frank Borman, the mission commander, looked out a window and saw something no other human being had ever witnessed — the Earth rising in the sky as seen from the moon.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Here’s the Earth coming up.” Bill Anders grabbed his camera and snapped the photo that later would be called simply “Earthrise.” Borman said later, it was “the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any color to it. Everything else was simply black or white. But not the Earth.” Astronaut Jim Lovell said it looked like a “grand oasis.”
Study the photo for a minute then ask yourself, “If the Earth can no longer support human life, where will we go?” The answer is, “Nowhere.” Without the Earth, we cannot survive. There is no Planet B. We will simply cease to exist. The Earth may continue on its lonely voyage through the cosmos for a few billion years, and it may eventually recover its ability to sustain human life forms, but none of us and none of our progeny will survive very long on an overheated speck far in one corner of the Milky Way once the seas turn acidic and the land no longer can be cultivated to grow food.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Before he passed off this mortal coil, Jerry Falwell said, “I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We’ll be in global cooling by then, if the Lord hasn’t returned. I don’t believe a moment of it. The whole thing is created to destroy America’s free enterprise system and our economic stability.”
Building Walls Is A Dangerous Distraction
Do Falwell’s words remind you of someone, a person who was on television last night pleading his case for a “big, beautiful wall” from one end of US/Mexico border to the other? Someone who reacted to the latest US government climate assessment by saying simply, “I don’t believe it”? In theory, that wall is a matter of national security, but what could be more in America’s national interest than providing a homeland where its citizens can proper and grow?
Shouldn’t America be leading the way to a zero carbon future instead of wringing its hands over a few wretched waifs who have committed no crime other than the desire to survive? The actions of America’s alleged president are reminiscent of another world leader who came to the United Nations in 1960 to bang his shoe on the lectern and scream, “We will bury you!” Do you see the similarities? In recent days, more and more people are comparing the man in the White House to a petulant child constantly throwing temper tantrums. Are they wrong? And is that what America needs most at this moment in time?
The world has already witnessed what building walls accomplishes. Why would we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in one decade and then seek to do a reprise of that affront to humanity in another? Is there anyone alive who remembers the horrors of the Berlin Wall who thinks building a similar wall in America is a good idea? Is there anyone who imagines a wall is a higher priority than preserving the ability of the Earth to sustain human life?
Better Dead Than Red?
On 60 Minutes last Sunday, Anderson Cooper asked Andrea Ocasio-Cortez if she was a socialist. He made it sound like an accusation. To her credit, she proudly and enthusiastically embraced the word. When having a debate, it is critical to first define one’s terms. For many, “socialism” and “communism” are viewed as one and the same. That is inaccurate. America has long stood as a staunch foe of communism, so it is understandable that some people equate the two.
Some have noticed that in my biographical information I suggest that democracy and socialism are inextricably intertwined. I have gotten hate mail from a number of people who find that characterization despicable. The level of vituperation in those messages is truly startling.
The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are distinctly socialist in nature and are based on the writings of Voltaire, Thoreau, Mill, and other 18th century writers who collectively sought to recast the role of government as a protector of the people, not an oppressor as had been the case under a succession of monarchs and religious leaders throughout history.
Was FDR’s New Deal socialist? Oh, yeah. You betcha. It has been said that Jesus of Nazareth was a socialist. If being a follower of His teachings makes a person a socialist, I happily plead guilty to being one myself.
First Things First
During her interview on 60 Minutes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Americans to “Push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible.” What’s wrong with that? What could possibly be more important that preserving the Earth that sustains us for present and future generations?
Here’s something for all you xenophobes who cower in fear at the “threat” of immigrants to America’s ethnic purity, as if there ever was any such thing. A new study by researchers at Duke University finds “US immigrant children study more math and science in high school and college, which leads to their greater presence in STEM careers.”
“Most studies on the assimilation of immigrants focus on the language disadvantage of non-English-speaking immigrants,” Marcos Rangel, assistant professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy tells Science Daily. “We focus instead on the comparative strength certain immigrant children develop in numerical subjects, and how that leads to majoring in STEM subjects in college.”
You want to push America’s technological capabilities? The children of immigrants are the ones who are likely to do precisely that. “Meaningful differences in skill accumulation … shape the consequent contributions of childhood immigrants to the educated labor force,” according to the researchers.
The Essence Of A Green New Deal
Thomas Friedman has a new perspective on the Green New Deal he proposed in 2007. In a story for the New York Times dated January 8, he references the Four Zeros proposed by Hal Harvey:
1. Zero-net energy buildings: buildings that can produce as much energy as they consume.
2. Zero-waste manufacturing: stimulating manufacturers to design and build products that use fewer raw materials and that are easily disassembled and recycled.
3. A zero-carbon grid: If we can combine renewable power generation at a utility scale with some consumers putting up their own solar panels and windmills that are integrated with the grid, and with large-scale storage batteries, we really could, one day, electrify everything carbon-free.
4. Zero-emissions transportation: a result of combining electric vehicles and electric public transportation with a zero-carbon grid.
“That’s my Green New Deal circa 2019,” Friedman writes. “It basically says: Forget the Space Race. We don’t need a man, or woman, on Mars. We need an Earth Race — a free-market competition to ensure that mankind can continue to thrive on Earth. A Green New Deal is the strategy for that. It can make America healthier, wealthier, more innovative, more energy secure, more respected — and weaken petro-dictators across the globe.”
Sounds like a plan. Let’s get busy following it. Today would be an excellent time to begin building bridges to somewhere rather than walls to nowhere.