A Green Dream for a Warming Planet

Sean Gannon, Staff Reporter

A Green Dream for a Warming Planet

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found we have until 2030 to cut global greenhouse-gas emissions in half to keep warming under 1.5°C (relative to prehistoric levels). Failing to meet The Paris Agreement’s benchmark, they found, would intensify extreme global weather patterns, wiping out coastal lands and causing mass migration and the disruption of global economies.

The Green New Deal (GND) aims to reimagine the 21st century economy for a rapidly warming planet, and is an unapologetic rebuke to climate orthodoxy.

Unlike climate incrementalism, the GND sees global warming as a dire social crisis rather than a market failure — and an avenue for progress. It shoots for carbonless energy by 2030 with a suit of public investments in green infrastructure, while promising Americans a more secure future with a living-wage jobs-guarantee, universal healthcare and education.

The resolution’s strategy revives the debate in the Democratic Party over our best defense to rising temperatures.

Economists like Dr. Rosie Mueller, a professor at Whitman, believe in market mechanisms like a carbon tax and green incentives. Mueller sees global warming as a gross market failure – external costs of environmentally harmful goods and services are not included in the private costs – that can be fixed with realigned costs.

“A carbon tax would force the market to internalize the costs that are borne out by society,” Mueller said. “So by the laws of supply and demand, if the price of something becomes more expensive people demand less of it.”

A carbon tax is accepted as the most cost-efficient way of curbing emissions while incentivizing renewable alternatives, according to Mueller. But the “yellow vests” riots in France reminded the global community of the tax’s uneven impacts and political unpopularity.

GND supporter Tyee Williams, a fourth-year Environmental Studies-Politics major and co-president of Campus Climate Coalition, has worked on carbon tax campaigns and feels that market instruments are “not very popular because they’re not tied in with other things that really make a big difference.”

He thinks climate policy has long been narrow-minded and disconnected from global warming’s broader ramifications.

“When you take it one policy at a time people don’t really put it into perspective,” Williams said.

To him, what makes the GND so refreshing is its comprehensive approach to a warming planet — it doesn’t just focus on mitigating temperatures but a fair transition into the new economy for all Americans.

By bundling climate policy with progressive economic programs, Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey, the deal’s authors, are reframing global warming as a matter of economic opportunity and justice rather than taxes and concessions. This could popularize climate policy, as climate policy alone has never seen the approval ratings as high as universal healthcare or a jobs-guarantee, according to Pew Research Center.

Not surprisingly, there is ample criticism for the GND. Amid accusations of fiscal negligence and “socialism,” many fear the deal’s progressiveness will bog down climate policy and, ultimately, divide the Democratic Party.

Mueller believes the deal’s leaders are “forming it into a more partisan debate” by including progressives’ entire wish list, possibly weakening the chances of passing climate legislation.

Mitch Fade, a fourth-year and co-president of College Republicans club, also believes that the deal’s wide scope “could make it harder to pass policies on climate change” and “could be seen to to subvert debate.” He favors public investment in nuclear and renewable energies, but feels the GND “added a bunch of extra stuff that doesn’t have to do with anything green.”

Williams has a recurring fear that the GND – already a progressive litmus test for Democrats – will divide the party while uniting Republicans in opposition. But he remains hopeful that the party will rally around its progressive base

“It’s where the excitement in the party is,” Williams said.

Even if the bill is shut out of Washington, Williams believes it is a valuable exercise for progressives.

“I think this is a way of really saying ‘this is what we’re about,’” Williams said. “And I think it’s shifting the whole debate about what it means to be a progressive.”

Senate Leader McConnell, in a tactical move to throw a wedge between moderate Democrats and the progressive wing, plans to bring the non-binding resolution to the floor for a vote by the end of the month.

Most Democratic presidential candidates have already shown support for the deal, but the devil is in the details — and the Green New Deal is nowhere near a set of policies. It may have to shed ambition for the sake of political feasibility. Nevertheless, the progressive manifesto has shown the voters where progressives want to take the country. It remains to be seen if voters will follow their lead.