On February 7, 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) introduced H. Res. 109, calling for a Green New Deal. Although she has become the face of the movement, the concept long precedes her own political career.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman coined the term in articles he published in January 2007. The resolution culminates the work of many people in the intervening years.
So far, it remains a resolution of intentions and goals. It is not a proposed law. If Congress approves it, or anything similar, the difficult business of crafting legislation will have to follow.
The Green New Deal has generated shrill rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum. I am taking my own look at it. Although I have read what others have written, both pro and con, I will base this post solely on the resolution itself.
The strengths of the Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is a big, audacious plan. It seeks to do more than just take care of the environment. The audacity is part of its strength, as well as part of its more dubious aspects.
It has the scope of the missions to land men on the moon or to mobilize to defeat enemies in two theaters in World War II. Such immense challenges have, in the past, captured the American imagination and spurred it to great accomplishments.
Instead of incremental improvements to environmental policy, the Green New Deal seeks to eliminate pollution “as much as technologically feasible” within ten years. It considers power generation, upgrading infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, contaminated sites, and everything else that contributes to pollution and greenhouse gases. It looks at how to clean air, water, and land.
The plan also envisions collaboration with all stakeholders at the local level. No policies devised by Congress or any federal agency would simply be imposed everywhere as if one size fits all.
The resolution recognizes that the Green New Deal will be disruptive to many. As I have written before, Germany has shut down all its coal mines. It attempted to find new jobs for displaced coal miners, with mixed success. Any move away from fossil fuels will also affect workers in the oil and natural gas industries. The Green New Deal addresses such issues, with promises of good jobs for everyone.
It also seeks to grow manufacturing in the US and find ways not to export jobs, and pollution, overseas. And in all this work, it promises to foster collaboration and cooperation—not only with all stakeholders in the US but also through international exchange of technology.
Weaknesses of the Green New Deal
The Green New Deal seeks to match or exceed the scope of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. It includes too many ideas related to environmental issues tangentially if at all. Here are just three problems.
The proposal to provide “clean, affordable, and accessible public transit and high-speed rail” is probably unattainable. In a city like Chicago, bus and train service operates round the clock. Plenty of people find they can do without driving, or even owning their own cars.
It doesn’t work in the suburbs. People need to go in too many different directions. The density of bus and train routes found in urban areas would not be economical there. Smaller cities lack the population density to make frequent service economical. So instead of buses operating every ten minutes or so, they come an hour apart at best.
Even in our largest cities, which have the most affordable public transit, many people choose not to use it. When I lived in the Chicago area, it never ceased to amaze me how many cars crawled down the expressways while my train zipped along. Then the drivers had to pay exorbitant parking rates. It’s much easier to build mass transit than persuade people to use it.
And high-speed rail? We don’t have decent slow-speed rail in this country. Amtrak must use freight lines for its trains. The infrastructure doesn’t exist that can be upgraded to high-speed rail. California recently threw in the towel on a decade of trying to build high-speed rail. If it can’t succeed there, it can’t succeed anywhere else.
The resolution promises “providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.”
It’s good to make college affordable and easily available to anyone who really wants a college education. But not all people need, want, or can benefit from higher education. Funneling people who don’t belong there into colleges and universities can only cheapen a college education, as history demonstrates.
A hundred and fifty years ago, a third-grade education provided sufficient basic skills in reading and arithmetic to thrive in society. Of course. the world has become more complicated since then. It requires so much more knowledge and sophistication than it used to. But our schools don’t expect nearly as much from third graders now as they did then.
A high school education doesn’t mean as much as it used to, either. I once came across a seventh-grade test from the turn of the 20thcentury. Today’s high-school seniors probably couldn’t pass it.
Why do we expect so much less of our students than we used to? Why has the pace of learning become so slow? Because compulsory education has kept students in the classroom who have no interest in learning. Teachers have to slow down the pace of education for the sake of people who don’t care.
Many jobs now require a college degree and don’t stipulate a major. A high school diploma won’t get people the jobs it used to. High school students haven’t learned the basic thinking skills they used to. Make everyone get a bachelor’s degree, and it won’t get people the jobs it does now.
The resolution promises to upgrade all existing buildings to make them more energy efficient, water efficient, and so on. “All” has to include people’s houses. I can think of all kinds of possible upgrades to my own house but I can’t afford to do them. Maybe the proposal envisions the federal government somehow paying for them. But in that case, will the government also decide what upgrades are necessary and impose them on me? Multiply that concern by hundreds of millions of buildings. And they’ll all be upgraded in ten years?
Think of the lawsuits.
“All” also has to include historic buildings and buildings in historic preservation districts. In those cases, zoning laws and principles of historical preservation limit what kinds of repairs can be done to a building. This issue raises the general issue that various ideals often come in conflict.
Backers of the Green New Deal seem to expect that everyone should fall in line with their vision of what’s good for society. Whatever other issues anyone else might raise, must take a back seat. Whatever else people might want to do with their buildings besides upgrading them is bad for the environment and therefore evil? Beyond being totally impractical, this proposal more than any other shows the utter perniciousness behind the Green New Deal.
The danger of the Green New Deal
The Green New Deal comes from the progressive faction of the Democratic party. Progressivism is and has always been a philosophy of hatred and class division. Progressives of a century ago hated blacks and immigrants from anywhere but Western Europe. Today’s progressives direct their venom at different classes of people. They remain the most intolerant of any segment of society.
The Green New Deal seems less interested in climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction for their own sake than for the supposed systemic injustices they exacerbate. The preamble lists “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” as “frontline and vulnerable communities.”
Throughout the resolution, clause after clause urges actions led by and for the sake of frontline and vulnerable communities. As if all these people have the same aims and aspirations against some unnamed oppressor class. In fact, the interests and aspirations of any one of the named groups sometimes conflict with those of others. In cases of conflict, progressive rhetoric often takes sides based on a hazy hierarchy of which group seems more oppressed.
When Ocasio-Cortez first announced the Green New Deal, she issued and later withdrew an FAQ that soon became the object of ridicule. Perhaps nothing produced more snickers than the reference to “farting cows.” Her repudiation of the FAQ doesn’t change the fact that many environmentalists have long expressed hostility to meat.
It’s easy to find blogs and social media posts from vegetarians and vegans who declare that meat eaters are a threat to the environment. It’s also hard to imagine how people with such an attitude can “work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and gas emissions” as the resolution promises.
Misunderstanding of FDR
The preamble to the resolution claims that the federal government’s role in the New Deal and the mobilization during the Second World War should serve as the models for a new mobilization. It finds only one problem. The earlier mobilizations excluded frontline and vulnerable communities from the benefits.
The stock market crash of 1929 led to the New Deal. The attack on Pearl Harbor led to wartime mobilization. The US was ill-prepared to deal with either of these crises.
The Roosevelt administration established the Office of War Mobilization and the War Manpower Commission, which quickly mandated new modes of government contracting and mass production.
The federal government commandeered natural resources and manufacturing facilities. It imposed rationing on the public. Many companies were no longer allowed to produce consumer goods. Whatever it was they made before mobilization, they had to make war materials instead.
During the Depression, most of the public had not been able to afford consumer goods. After the mobilization lifted the nation out of the Depression, factories were not allowed to make consumer goods. So the public still could not buy them. The public at the time endured these hardships because the national consensus favored whatever it took to defeat Germany and Japan.
Would today’s public accept similar disruptions to fight climate change and reorganize the economy as the progressives demand? I doubt it.
I completely agree that we need a comprehensive plan of sufficient scope to tackle both environmental problems and the wasteful consumerism that exacerbates them. To succeed, it will have to capture the imagination of the whole nation, as the war mobilization did. The Green New Deal won’t cut it.
Ocasio-Cortez. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Solar panels on Walmart roof. Some rights reserved by Walmart
Zero-emission bus. White House photo by Eric Draper
College of Engineering Building. Photo by Cewatkin. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Men arguing. Some rights reserved by o5com (Link to Flickr no longer works)
Airplane cockpit. National Museum of the US Air Force