The Green New Deal: Q&A with UC Davis Policy Institute Experts
Editor’s Note: This is Part I of a two part article. Read Part II here.
The Green New Deal is a resolution introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in early February of 2019. The primary sponsors are Senator Ed Markley, D-MA, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY. Currently there are 12 co-sponsors in the Senate and 91 in the House.
The resolution presents the following goals as the “duty of the Federal Government” which “should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization”: “to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers; to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; [and] to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.” In terms of timeline, the resolution indicates that “to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate” it “will require global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030; and net-zero global emissions by 2050.”
The resolution was brought to a vote March 26 in the Senate where it failed 0-57 with 43 Democrats voting present (see Washington Post article link after Q&A). In the House, the resolution has been referred to several committees and has yet to be brought to a vote. The Green New Deal would not have the force of law nor provide the funding necessary to reach the goals. As a piece of legislation, the Green New Deal must pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President in order to become an official statement of US goals.
Cool Davis sat down with two experts from the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy to ask questions about the Green New Deal. The following Q&A text is from that interview plus some written information prepared by Kelly and Colin.
Colin Murphy, Ph.D., is the Deputy Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy and the Policy Director of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation at UC Davis.
Kelly L. Fleming, Ph.D., is the Rapid Response Policy Analyst for the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy at UC Davis.
Q What is the Green New Deal (GND)?
Colin: [The Green New Deal] is a very ambitious decarbonization goal along with a clear commitment to engage in job creation in a very equitable justice-oriented way. It is a vision statement or statement of goals.
Kelly: It is a simple resolution, not a policy document. It doesn’t enforce any laws. It says “these are our priorities and we are going to develop policy to implement it.” The decarbonization goals are based on multiple scientific reports like the IPCC that came out recently saying we need to get to net zero [carbon emissions] by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Q From a policy perspective, is the Green New Deal the right way to go?
Colin: The two main emissions sectors in the US are electricity and transportation. The GND says we are going to move to zero emission electricity and EV [electric vehicle] dominated transportation as soon as possible. However, there is some question about what the transportation target means: we cannot get to 100% of all cars on the road being EVs by 2030, [but we might] possibly get to 100% of all sales. The focus on high-speed rail may be a bit problematic. The geography of the U.S., especially in the South and West, is not well suited for rail due to the long distances between cities. There are clearly some areas where HSR makes a lot of sense, the Acela corridor and parts of the upper Midwest, but it may not be an efficient choice in many places.
Kelly: There is a strong consensus in the transportation research community that EVs will be the dominant transportation technology in the passenger vehicle space (cars and light trucks) by mid-century, and it’s good to see the resolution focus on them. The resolution also focuses on public transportation and high-speed rail development. Buildings, agriculture, and manufacturing have the same emissions reduction goals, with a focus on moving the grid to renewable energy while also expanding its capacity; [also] retrofitting and building energy efficient buildings, managing crops and agricultural carbon management practices, and working to improve manufacturing practices.
Q Why the name “Green New Deal”?
Kelly: They are calling it the Green New Deal because climate change needs to be solved quickly similar to the reason the New Deal was implemented.
Colin: There needs to be a new structure and a new way of thinking about the relationship between government, industry, and labor. The status quo is not producing a sustainable outcome.
Q Why is equity emphasized so much?
Kelly: With respect to equity, the focus is to make sure that people are not marginalized or left out. Emissions have been shown to be an equity measure. The more equitable the economy is, the fewer emissions there are per capita. Income inequality is an indicator of higher greenhouse gas emissions and the populations who suffer the consequences [of climate change] are disproportionately those who are economically disadvantaged.
The groups whose jobs in the fossil fuel industry would be impacted should also not be left behind. According to Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy architect behind the GND, the intention to make sure nobody is out of a job, and the need to rapidly innovate clean energy technology is the reasoning behind the job guarantee – stimulate the economy, ensure people have jobs, and cut emissions.
Q Is the approach logical or appropriate?
Kelly: We are at a critical crossroads, and inaction will result in extraordinary consequences. So, the steps taken to address it should also be extraordinary. The goals outlined in the GND are consistent with the scientific consensus on what actions need to be taken to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Colin: [The procedure of] laying out a vision first and then filling detail is appropriate, as is setting emission targets based on sound science and giving policy makers and businesses some flexibility to determine how to meet them.
Q Is the pairing of environmental action with a guarantee of employment intentional? Does this promise make it challenging for others on the political spectrum to accept the GND?
Kelly: The economy is addressed in parallel throughout the resolution, using a jobs guarantee to build labor capacity to meet energy and transportation goals. The drafters are saying that when people working in fossil fuels are put out of a job there will be other employment for them in clean energy. [The focus is on] on economic policies to guarantee jobs and stimulate growth in sectors to help decarbonize the country. There are some criticisms of this goal as a distraction from the greenhouse gas reduction goal, however there are studies showing that economic equality will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own.
Colin: This is a fascinating time with respect to how automation is going to reshape labor. Looking at shared and autonomous vehicles that may eliminate drivers. Long distance driving is one place it makes the most sense because it is mostly on the highway. Computers can probably do it safer and faster and with less emissions. There are a lot of places we don’t have a prediction. There is a potential for a great grand bargain with labor here. Saying to industry, if you want to cut labor out, you need to devote a lot of the money you are saving to improving the social safety net.
In the environmental community, the issue of justice has been kicked down the road. The GND position is that this can no longer happen. Even though we recognize that climate change is an incredibly serious threat, solving them by ignoring the justice issues is not acceptable. Luckily this is a situation where the solution to one can align with the other. But there are a lot of established interests that are not happy with upsetting the status quo.
Q Most of the communities affected by climate change are on board. But those communities being displaced by the switch to sustainable fuels are not. How do we make the connection?
Colin: It’s tough. You need to provide alternative means of employment. People may not always be happy with that. You can offer a transition package, but even if it looks economically rational, occupation is often tied to identity. You can’t just steamroll over people. You need to continue to support them in some way even if they continue to reject the transition no matter what side of the political divide they are on.
Browse these links for background information and more
Full text of 116th Congress, House Resolution 109, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text
Policy Institute for Energy, the Environment, and the Economy https://policyinstitute.ucdavis.edu/
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
The Fourth National Climate Assessment https://www.globalchange.gov/nca4
Senate defeats Green New Deal, as Democrats call vote a ‘sham’ (Washington Post) https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/green-new-deal-on-track-to-senate-defeat-as-democrats-call-vote-a-sham/2019/03/26/834f3e5e-4fdd-11e9-a3f7-78b7525a8d5f_story.html?utm_term=.35cf238c9ea7
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