At the highest levels, the Green Party platform in U.S. politics appeals to me. I am passionate about energy efficiency and like the idea of expanding U.S. green-collar jobs and infrastructure. Unfortunately, when a member of the Green Party gets some national attention, they never quite look like they are ready for the big stage.
While most candidates have fallen out of relevance, one notable topic keeps coming up: The Green New Deal. Would a sustainability-focused, modern New Deal be a good fit for the United States? What would convince the average U.S. voter to back this type of program?
The New Deal brought the United States out of the Great Depression by putting people back to work in federally created projects. While the New Deal brought us out of vast unemployment (some areas saw more than 80 percent unemployment), the aftermath is still contentious. Should the federal government be the driving force for employment? This continues to be a fundamental difference between the Democrats and Republicans, and it could be a key piece of a Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal phrase is credited to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In 2007, he wrote an article introducing the idea: “The New Deal was not built on a magic bullet but on a broad range of programs and industrial projects to revitalize America. Ditto for an energy New Deal. If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power — and conservation.”
Friedman argues that government regulation and higher energy prices are the factors that would move the average consumer to make better energy choices.
He probably made the average middle-of-the-road and conservative readers of that column spit out their morning coffee. More government control and higher energy prices sound unappealing to most. In some ways, the U.S. became a superpower by using an enormous amount of energy, not conserving it. Changing that mindset is a tall task, especially if it means self-imposing higher energy prices.
The superpowers of the future will be the ones who excel with renewables. The United States won’t be able to burn enough fossil fuels to stay a superpower forever if the leaders of Europe and Asia can better utilize renewables and energy efficiency. Historically, the countries with the most consistent supplies of energy are most relevant. The Green New Deal proposals suggest we proactively transition from fossil fuels right now, instead of waiting until supplies are limited.
Job Creation, Tax Dollars
Since the Green New Deal was coined, different politicians have tried to make it their own. Ralph Nader ran under the Green Party flag in 1996 and 2000. The Green Party, fairly or unfairly, didn’t make many traditional Democratic Party friends in Florida in 2000. Nader received about 100,000 votes and Al Gore ended up losing to George W. Bush by less than 1,000 votes in the Florida recount.
During the 2016 presidential election, Jill Stein won the Green Party nomination and set her sights on a policy appealing to her party’s base. Her platform stated, “[The Green New Deal will] create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.” Sounds great!
Reinforcing my statement that most Green Party candidates aren’t quite ready for national attention, Stein was charged with a misdemeanor in September 2016 for spray-painting a bulldozer near the Dakota Access Pipeline. While it may have been a great idea to inspire her base, it didn’t look presidential. She ended up getting about 1 percent of the popular vote.
Green policy think tanks also have taken a shot at the ideal Green New Deal. A policy report by Data for Progress states: “In 2017, there were 800,000 Americans employed in low-carbon-emission generation technologies and 2.25 million employed in energy efficiency. This compares to only 92,000 for coal-fired generation.” This think tank argues that we need to double down on this green economy transition because it provides people with steady work.
A group named Securing America’s Future Energy ran the numbers for our current approach to energy procurement, from the U.S. Department of Defense budget angle: “At minimum, approximately $81 billion per year is spent by the U.S. military protecting global oil supplies. This is approximately 16 percent of recent DOD base budgets. Spread out over the 19.8 million barrels of oil consumed daily in the U.S. in 2017, the implicit subsidy for all petroleum consumers is approximately $11.25 per barrel of crude oil or $0.28 per gallon. A more extensive estimate by two highly-regarded economists suggests the costs could be greater than $30 per barrel or over $0.70 per gallon.”
Basically, whatever you paid for a gallon of gas in 2017, you actually paid more for our military to risk their lives to secure our path to oil.
We don’t need the DOD to escort rays of sunlight to the United States. The fundamental concepts in the Green New Deal would make this country a stronger superpower. By reducing fossil-fuel usage, we can create jobs and pull back our dependence on geopolitical energy cartels.
What is the main argument against a Green New Deal? Increased government regulation is a hard sell. Most green-policy proposals take the money and favoritism that flows to fossil-fuel producers and redistributes it to green causes. For the traditional Republican Party, green can be seen as anti-business and socialistic.
For a Green New Deal to reach across the aisle to the Republicans, it will have to be accompanied by a convincing argument that we are currently socializing fossil-fuel billionaires at the expense of the rest of the country. A Green New Deal could provide a path to prosperity for people from all political parties.
Some people want to ban fossil fuels with no feasible plan for what to do in the short term to replace them. Some people are working hard to build renewables to the point where they will displace fossil fuels as the expected energy. We should lump those two groups together. I think the green movement is hurt by the holier-than-thou crowd who want to force the issue instead of finding a way to appeal to the majority.
The most recent revival of the Green New Deal is happening now with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign for New York’s 14th congressional district in 2018. I don’t know much about Ocasio-Cortez but I hope she can make a compelling argument for a Green New Deal. Skeptics call her a socialist.
Socializing energy isn’t new. The Green Party didn’t create it. The U.S. strategy of risking our troops to secure profits for major oil companies has been a long-standing, socialized program. We all pay tax dollars to make a handful of private companies rich.
To make a Green New Deal viable, it seems one of the two major political parties would have to get behind it. I don’t think the Green Party alone can carry this policy to relevance. It isn’t an impossible task. A Green New Deal could be pro-business and pro-environment at the same time. It will take a charismatic, moderate candidate to provide an honest assessment of what we can do.
There is space for everyone in the heart of the Green New Deal. We just need the right candidate and public relations message to make it happen.