Today’s tale is a cautionary one. It centers on the proposed Green New Deal (GND) and the possibility that Republican lawmakers may soon be compelled by circumstances to introduce their notions of a national climate policy. The GND has been the talk of Capital City since Democrats captured the House of Representatives and America’s youth took to the post-2018 election battlements.
Push-back on the GND by Republican climate change deniers and their conservative media allies has been both chiding and ferocious. At one level, all the deniers’ talk is about the technological infeasibility of converting the current fossil fuel economy to 100 percent renewables in a bit more than a decade. Deniers also speak of the impossibility of making every building in the US energy efficient—presumably within any time frame—and the cost of such an undertaking.
Republican attacks on the GND are not limited to technical feasibility and price. Fingers are being pointed at Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the growing number of progressives suspected of wanting to drag the nation into socialist territory. Mind you, not the genteel socialism of Scandinavia. Trump, as well as Republican operatives and conservative economists and news media presenters like Ben Stein and Hannity, claims the GND—its authors and endorsers—want to turn the US into a repressive red socialist state.
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R) raised crimson colored flags responding to a question on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
Sure. I mean, Hugh, it’s pretty remarkable that when these Democrats put out the Green New Deal last week that you had many Democrats running for president leap onto a proposal that was going to confiscate every privately owned vehicle in America within a decade and ban air travel so we could all drive or ride around on high-speed light rail, supposedly powered by unicorn tears…
Senator Cotton has taken a bit of liberty in his characterization of the Green New Deal. I've poured through thousands of documents and have yet to find anything to suggest confiscations of autos or a travel ban on flying to foreign shores around Depression-era .
Trump is encouraging Democratic presidential hopefuls to embrace the GND—believing it will help him win re-election. At a recent rally, Trump priced the GND at $100 trillion. A number he undoubtedly took from an analysis by the American Action Forum (AAF) and reported on Fox News. The organization’s cost estimate for the GND—all parts included—was between $51 and $93 trillion over the first decade of its operation. AAF is a distinctly conservative policy organization. The biggest ticket items of the GND, according to the Forum, would be healthcare at the cost of $36 trillion and guaranteed jobs at between $6.8 and $44.6 trillion.
There are lower estimates out there as well; any cost estimate at this time is unreliable as there is no actual GND legislation to analyze. Non-binding resolutions, i.e., H. Res. 109 and S. Res. 59, authored by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez are spectral.
It would be fair to say that the cost of a GND would be considerable. What would also be considerable are the potential economic, environmental, and societal benefits that would be returned on the investment in the form of new jobs, improved health, technological innovation, increased plant efficiencies, etc.
Trumplicans hang the cost of environmental protection over the heads of climate defenders as if it were a Damoclean sword. The Administration knows that the courts require some reason-able balance between costs and benefits of any given regulation. The practice of Trump and company is to devalue the benefits and inflate the costs. The practice is one reason why the Administration keeps losing in court.
Assuming most of the world’s climate scientists are right, what’s a planet worth these days?
Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is planning to put the Green New Deal resolution up for a vote before the August recess. The Majority Leader had initially threatened to push the GND resolution onto the Senate floor before the end of February. Democratic maneuvering caused McConnell to change his plan.
Senate Democrats have been nervous over the possibility of a floor vote on S. Res. 59 as they are not prepared to cast a unanimous vote in favor of the GND. Although all the current senators running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination have signed on as co-sponsors of the Markey resolution, the Senate Democratic caucus remains divided.
To avoid the appearance of Democratic discord on the broad issue of combatting climate change, Senate Democrats were promising to vote “present” on any S. Res. 59 balloting—leaving only Republican votes to be recorded as yea or nay. Believing a “present” vote on the Markey resolution could still be interpreted badly by deniers, Senate Democrats are also considering the introduction of a more generalized climate resolution. The wording of the resolution would leave no doubt as to the Democrats' commitment to combat climate change without committing to any particular plan. Reports are that the new resolution would also leave out specific targets and time frames.
McConnell believes a vote on the GND resolution will create conflicts within the Democratic ranks—pitting progressives against moderates. The Majority Leader and the President are of one mind when it comes to baiting Senate and House Democrats and accusing them of being un-American. Both men also believe that the mistakenly released memo that spoke of flatulent bovine and the demise of air transport opens the Democrats to ridicule—a commodity Trumplicans are happy to provide for free.
Both McConnell and Trump appear to believe that today’s Green Scare is yesterday’s Red Scare and that Republicans could coast to victory in 2020 on the back of fear. Their challenge is getting others to believe it. Every political grifter knows that if the lie is big enough and spoken of often enough that even the most outlandish claims can be made believable. Consider the wall on America’s southern border.
There are substantial risks connected with a Green Scare strategy. Millennials and Generation Z-ers, for example, do not exhibit the same horrors of commies and reds that their parents and grandparents were taught. Moreover, younger voters on both sides of the partisan-divide place a substantial premium on sustainability and environmental justice. They are also less likely to be bothered by more restrictive vehicle emissions and other environmental controls than older generations.
Research at the University of Michigan shows that [driver] licensing has decreased from 91.8 percent to 76.7 percent for the 16-year-old to 44-year-old demographic. Only 60 percent of 18-year-olds had a drivers’ license in 2014, compared to 80 percent in 1983. The downward trend continues today. As a practical matter then, increasing auto fuel efficiency standards is much less of a problem for millennials than for boomers dragging an Airstream along the Kerouac trail.
Name calling is only a portion of the Republican strategy to defeat climate defense plans put forward by the Democrats. Although socialist jibes may satisfy Trumplicans, moderate Republicans need something more than schoolyard bromides to remain loyal to the party when it comes to climate defense.
Having called Democrats radical and unhinged for proposing the GND, Republicans in and out of Congress will themselves be called upon to offer substantive and workable “adult” alternatives, if not by other Republicans then by Democrats.
Being opposed to the GND is not the same as being dismissive of climate science or without fear of what the future holds for the planet should Earth’s warming continue unabated. Republicans, like Democrats, will find electoral victories elusive when their entire position on any matter is simply opposite that of their opponent. Democrats say yes, we Trumplicans say no. Trump says tout private industry, Ocasio-Cortez says tax it.
Whatever one thinks of the GND, it has succeeded in making climate change a hot topic of discussion throughout much of the nation. Given climate is on the agenda of every Democratic presidential contender and a popular topic of derision by many conservative politicians and cable pundits, the climate discussion will not be going away anytime soon.
Over the course of the next 18 or more months Republicans, as well as Democrats, will be proposing their strategies for combatting climate change—some, e.g., a national carbon tax, will have the societal sweep of portions of the GND, while others will be more narrowly focused on aspects of the problem, e.g., carbon capture and sequestration.
The rush of new proposals amid the 2020 election cycle will challenge voters to distinguish between serious attempts to confront and conquer climate challenge and those intended to shunt substantive debate down a dead-end street to buy more time for fossil fuels.
Senator Barrasso (R-WY), a coal state conservative, has recently called for cutting carbon through technological innovation rather than regulation. Is his support for innovation evidence of his acceptance of climate change and the need to do something about it? Or, is it simply a ruse for kicking the can down the road, while sounding reasonable?
What about the imposition of a national carbon tax, which is supported by the nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), a grassroots organization of over 80,000 members, as well as staid Republican organizations like the Climate Leadership Council (CLC)? The Council is the work of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz.
Major oil companies and environmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy are members of CLC. These supporting groups have been working on getting the tax implemented long-before the GND went viral. Does time in-place and the support of a broad coalition of interests indicate good intentions?
The Congressional game board on climate was changed significantly by the results of the 2018 midterm elections. Going forward towards the 2020 elections global warming will find prominent places in the electoral debate. Legislative vehicles that could carry climate policy include budget, appropriations, and authorization of executive agency programs, e.g., energy, interior, and scientific research. Infrastructure legislation offers another opportunity to respond to the changing climate in the form of resiliency measures and climate responsive designs.
Real responsiveness to the climate challenge will only come about with bi-partisan support; absent collaboration the stability of any enactment will continue to be questioned. It would be wrong to dismiss the offer of help from past deniers out of hand.
By the same token, it would be foolish to allow the momentum of the GND dialogue to be led astray by reasonable sounding proposals to research technology instead of rather than along with immediate action. It is for each of us to decide whether to support or oppose any particular plan or proposal no matter who may propose it.
If there’s a moral to this cautionary tale, it is this: reach out a hand to new ideas, while keeping the other one on your wallet—there are grifters out there.
Lead image: Sword of Damocles courtesy of wikiart.org
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.