Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Green New Deal: The Moonshot of Our Generation

Democrats are proposing a Green New Deal to confront climate change. Newly elected legislators are joining forces with venerable law makers to promote government support for climate action. On December 10th more than 1000 young people went to the Capitol to support the proposed deal. A number of high profile supporters were present for an online town hall that drew thousands of viewers. There is widespread support from both progressive politicians and organizations, there are already 38 Congresspeople who have stood up to support Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) proposal for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal.

This is a high-profile bid to shift debate over climate change toward policy on the scale of the crisis. So far 311 state and local officials including forty-four mayors, 63 county and state legislators and 116 city council members are among the officials from 40 states who signed an open letter that calls for the phaseout of fossil fuels and adoption of serious climate policies. There has even been some support from some top oil and gas producers. 

Progressive Democrats are looking to pass the deal in 2020 when it is hoped that more responsible leadership will take the place of the Trump administration and the current slate of Republicans that control the Senate.

Bernie Sanders and others have repeatedly emphasized that climate action is largely about reducing our use of fossil fuels. This entails transforming our energy system by ramping up renewables. According to supporters this will translate to an economic boom. Such investments could save the planet and create millions of good-paying jobs.

Ocasio-Cortez compared climate action to the moonshot and called it, the civil rights movement of our generation. Van Jones and Bill McKibben were also present on the panel. This initiative is particularly timely in the wake of David Attenborough's warning that in the absence of consorted action we face the collapse of civilization.

To bring the idea to fruition Ocasio-Cortez is proposing a bipartisan Select Committee composed of 15 members that will be established once Democrats take control of the House early in 2019. They will draft legislation to help the US to achieve carbon neutrality and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.

The legislation will be crafted in close consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, academia and broadly representative civil society groups and communities. It will provide opportunities for high-income work, entrepreneurship and cooperative and public ownership

The select committee will have the authority to investigate, study, hold hearings, make findings and convene experts and leaders.  The goals of the deal are as follows:
  • 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
  • building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
  • upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
  • decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
  • decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
  • funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
  • making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.
The proposal acknowledges that we need more than just regulation, subsidies and taxation, if we are to quickly and smoothly transform the economy. We will need to stop using fossil fuels and invest in building retrofits to maximize energy efficiency, building a carbon-neutral power generation system, decarbonizing industry and agriculture and more. Investment capital is required to scale these types of projects in a timely fashion. According to some estimates we are talking about an investment of $1 trillion over 10 years (according to the most recent UN report there is a $26 trillion opportunity).

This is entirely consistent with the role that governments have played in the past. Governments have historically taken a leadership role in new tech and R&D that have subsequently spurred private sector boons. Examples include DARPA projects, the internet and Tesla motors.

Funding of these programs can include credit from the Federal Reserve which can extend credit to power these projects and investments, taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can also be employed.and the government can take an equity role in projects.

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