The Green New Deal – Can It Work?

All the buzz around climate change has descended on the Green New Deal proposed a few weeks ago by Senator Ed Markey and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In its current form it’s a mishmash of “progressive” politics and climate change practicalities. In this blog series, I want to deal with just the climate change aspects, especially those that are designed to dramatically reduce US carbon emissions by 2030, the next supposed “tipping point” for runaway climate change. (It used to be 2016, according to James Hansen, but 2016 has come and gone.) The stated goal is to transform the US to a “low-carbon economy” by mid-century.

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Key elements of the climate-change aspects of the Green New Deal include:[i]

1.     100% Clean and Renewable Electricity by 2035

2.     Zero Net Emissions from Energy by 2050

3.     100% Net-Zero Building Energy Standards by 2030

4.     100% Zero Emission Passenger Vehicles by 2030

5.     100% Fossil-Free Transportation by 2050

Looked at as a ten-year program, starting with the next presidential administration in 2021, it is the equivalent of the “moon-shot” program President Kennedy announced in September of 1962 and which was realized in less than seven years. The clear goal was to put a “man” on the moon and return “him” safely by the end of 1969.

However, that program built on America’s industrial might rather than redirecting it, as proposed in the GND. In all, the space program did demonstrate that BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – are achievable with enough political will and enough focus on the final goal, along with careful choice of intermediate steps to get there.

That said, could we achieve these goals? The qualified answer is Yes! Let’s look at them: 

1.     100% clean and renewable electricity by 2035 – Can be done with enough investments and support for industry.

2.     Zero emissions from all energy sources by 2050. I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of all combustion energy by 2050, but if we “electrify everything,” as many propose, then we can use goal #1 to achieve goal #2.

3.     Net-zero building energy standards by 2030. If we allow (by code) all new buildings to buy only renewable electricity, then this goal dovetails nicely with goal #1.

4.     Zero emissions from all passenger vehicles by 2030. Might work for new vehicles, especially with diesel completely discredited and the growing focus on EVs, but most of today’s auto and truck fleet will still be on the road by 2030, so we’ll have to put the pedal to the metal to get this done even by 2050.

5.     Zero-emission transportation by 2050. Hard to imagine this goal ever being met, given the prevalence of airplanes and gas & diesel trucks, but it wouldn’t be hard to make a good start on it, especially with a focus on reducing urban transportation emissions.

There’s lots more to say about the GND, so stay tuned for next week’s installment! But the bottom line is: the time for excuses is over; it’s time to take action!

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