February 23, 2019

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What You Should Know About The Green New Deal(s)

What You Should Know About The Green New Deal(s)
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Detail of the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C., the meeting place for Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the federal government.Getty

The first thing you should know about the Green New Deal is that there is no single Green New Deal. Recent media attention has been focused on the proposal supported by newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, there are multiple proposals using the name Green New Deal, which vary tremendously in their scope and intent.

Green New Deal proposals fall into two categories: proposals which focus on improvement of the environment, especially reducing the risks of climate change, and proposals which combine the former with broad societal and governmental changes, such as income redistribution and reduction of the US military.

The original Green New Deal

Per Wikipedia (and Friedman himself), the phrase was originally used by Thomas Friedman in a 2007 New York Times op-ed. Friedman’s proposal was an exhortation to action on climate change. It was weak on specifics and did not include the social agenda included in other proposals.

Friedman’s version is simply an all-out effort to combat climate change. As such, it is no different from actions championed by proponents of the theory of anthropogenic climate change, such as James Hansen, Michael Mann, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and numerous others.

Popularization of this concept is usually attributed to James Hansen’s 1988 speech to Congress; however, the concern dates back at least to the 1960s and was the subject of a comprehensive report by the National Research Academy in 1977. Warnings have become increasingly urgent since there has been little reduction in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Green New Deals with a social agenda

The Green New Deal introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an example of an environmental program combined with a social program. In addition to having the US become carbon neutral, it envisions a “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era” and providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; and economic security.

Another example of the social democratic version was published by the Green Party US and remains part of their platform. It includes “a WPA-style public jobs program,” a single-payer medical system, tuition-free college, forgiveness of all existing college debt, repeal of the Patriot Act, somewhat vague voting reform, and various other liberal agenda items. They adopt Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson’s estimate of $13.4 trillion as the total cost of a renewable energy conversion. It would be paid for by a 50% cut in military spending, a very high carbon tax and higher taxes on “the wealthiest Americans.”

Other Green New Deals

A number of other organizations have proposed Green New Deals. Examples include the Green New Deal Group, Data for Progress and Elected Officials to Protect America. Most often, these include a social agenda, although the nature and extent of social measures varies among proposals. Sometimes the Green New Deal is used as a generic term, without reference to a specific plan.

Someone has to pay for it

It is entirely reasonable, even commendable, that a proposal include the means to fund it. After all, the $13.4 trillion estimate of the Green Party US is more than half the existing US national debt. The Green Party proposes taxing the rich, cutting military spending and a carbon tax.

The proposal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not include specific funding. However, she has earlier advocated taxing the rich and carbon taxes.

Bundling a package of social reform measures with emissions reduction creates a false dichotomy. Either one could be done independently.

Media coverage is often misleading

It is very common for articles, such as this New Yorker piece, to leave out the social agenda. This is incomplete and misleading. The social agenda is a major part of the proposal by Ocasio-Cortez and others.

Many commentators in the right-wing media emphasize the social agenda of the Green New Deal, some going as far as to call it a “Trojan horse for socialism.” I had a hard time finding such articles that didn’t include a rant against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders or the Democratic Party generally. Regardless of rhetoric, their point is correct: most versions of the Green New Deal are not just about protecting the environment. Balanced coverage would not leave out the significant social measures included in these plans.

Make sure you know what you’re supporting

A recent Yale poll reported 81% support for the Green New Deal among American voters. However, it also reported 82% of voters knew nothing about it. Furthermore, the question was prefaced by an “explainer” that described the promised benefits with no mention whatever of the associated social democratic measures.

As I said in an earlier post and others have reported, “explainers” of this type can bias poll results. I doubt that all survey participants, who were told the Green New Deal would produce jobs, strengthen the US economy and generate 100% of the nation’s electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years, would necessarily have supported it if also told of tax increases, universal health care and other social agenda items not disclosed in the “explainer.”

Yale says, “our description of the Deal accurately provided details about the proposal.” I encourage you to compare the explainer (it’s the first paragraph of the link to the poll) to the Select Committee proposal to see whether it “accurately provided details.”

In this era of fake news and the echo chamber, it is important to look behind the promises of proponents of any proposal. If you’re polled or voting for someone the basis of the Green New Deal, make sure you know what you’re supporting.


Earl J. Ritchie is a retired energy executive and teaches a course on the oil and gas industry at the University of Houston. He has 35 years’ experience in the industry. He started as a geophysicist with Mobil Oil and subsequently worked in a variety of management and technical positions with several independent exploration and production companies. He retired as Vice President and General Manager of the offshore division of EOG Resources in 2007. Prior to his experience in the oil industry, he served at the US Air Force Special Weapons Center, providing geologic and geophysical support to nuclear research activities. Ritchie holds a Bachelor of Science in Geology–Geophysics from the University of New Orleans and a Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering and Construction Management from the University of Houston.





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