Climate Plans: I'll See Your $10 Trillion and Raise You $5 Trillion!

We’re in the thick of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, in which each candidate is trying to outdo the other with rhetoric and plans about how they will tackle the climate emergency, the most existential threat since nuclear annihilation in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike that time, there is no external enemy threatening us - WE are the problem.

Climate demonstration, Miami, June 2019. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Climate demonstration, Miami, June 2019. Credit: Shutterstock.com

So this week, ahead of the CNN “climate debate,” candidates are rolling out their “climate” plans and trying to outdo the last plan they heard. Bernie Sanders unveiled his climate plan: $16.3 trillion (where did the “$0.3 trillion” come from?) over ten years, creating 20 million “new” jobs..

Sanderistas in Miami, June 2019. Credit: Shutterstock.com

Sanderistas in Miami, June 2019. Credit: Shutterstock.com

In my experience, “green jobs” are hard to measure. Take green building, which has been touting “a million” new jobs for the past 15 years. But there is a conceptual problem: If I build a greener building at the same cost as a “conventional” building, where do the incremental “green jobs” come from? If from new materials and products from the same companies that produced the “brown” materials and products, was there any net job gain? The answer is: this is largely political rhetoric. But by the way, you can “buy” any “new jobs” number you want just by picking the right progressive think tank and moving from unrealistic assumptions to predetermined conclusions. Trust me, I’ve been a consultant long enough to know this is standard practice.

In 2016, the entire U.S. energy industry employed 6.4 million people. How can we add 14 million jobs in a full-employment economy in which 3.5 million Boomers are retiring each year? Are we saying that it will take three times as many people to supply our energy needs in a renewable energy economy? That sounds like running up a white flag before the enemy has opened fire.

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In fact, if Bernie’s $16.3 trillion is raised by imposing new taxes, then it’s hard to make a case that there will be any gain in jobs, just a shifting of the tax burden away from today’s successful companies (after all, you only pay taxes on profits you make) toward subsidizing less efficient enterprises. That sounds like a recipe for impoverishment; talk about a tough sell politically!

The truth is that NO ONE, certainly not those running for President in 2020, has any REAL idea about how to effect a massive transition of the world’s most successful economy (in conventional terms, at least) in an incredibly short period of time, say 120 months, without impoverishing the people who can least afford it. The rich and upper middle class will always take care of themselves, it’s those below the median income we should be mainly concerned about. We deserve better from our think tanks and political leaders than we’re getting right now.