The Greene New Deal

Sorry, couldn’t resist.  I can’t believe it’s taken me that long to give a post that title.  So, I’m far from an expert on these things and I remain profoundly uncertain about what is the best political approach on facing climate change.  But, policy-wise, I think Megan McArdle makes a hell of a lot of sense (while being overly harsh on the GND):

Like all myopes, the Green New Dealers can see clearly only what’s right in front of them, which is to say the United States, beyond which they perceive only the fuzzy outlines of a half-mythical European enviro-paradise. And 30 years ago, that was an almost reasonable way to look at the problem. But today, the United States accounts for 4.3 percent of the world’s population, roughly 25 percent of its economic output and 15 percent of its carbon emissions from fuel combustion. Meanwhile China, with 18 percent of the world’s population, has 15 percent of its gross domestic product and 28 percent of its emissions. And India, with a population almost as big as China’s, produces only about 3 percent of global GDP and 6 percent of emissions.

Looking at these three countries brings the scale of the problem into focus. There is a small, rich world that lives in comfort and plenty, and a much larger, poor one that wants to get rich. To do so, those billions of people will pass through an intermediate stage when their developing industries are much dirtier than their highly regulated rich-world counterparts. The global emissions problem is likely to get much worse before it gets any better…

Even if the United States becomes ever more efficient in its energy use, that still won’t prevent the planet from warming. For that matter, zeroing out U.S. emissions and moving the whole country into yurts wouldn’t prevent the climate from warming, because Americans are not the biggest problem anymore. The problem is the more than 6 billion people who aren’t living in the rich world… [emphases mine]

Developing countries aren’t going to put scarce resources into artificially expensive “green” ways of replicating the rich-world lifestyle; they’re going to get there by the least costly route. The solution isn’t figuring out how to subsidize or mandate green alternatives; it’s figuring out how to make them cheaper than the carbon-intensive versions…

There are a number of possible paths to that outcome, and the United States should be walking them all: massive government investment in scientific research, along with a revenue-neutral carbon tax and research prizes to encourage private industry to get into the act.

And, Drum has a somewhat similar take:

This is why I’m basically pessimistic about the Green New Deal. It’s deliberately vague so no one will freak out too much, but deliberately vague won’t get the job done. If we want to seriously slash carbon emissions, there are going to be sacrifices. Less meat. Smaller cars. Higher prices for fossil fuels. (Way higher.) Taxes that go beyond the top 1 percent. What makes us think that will fly in a world where bans on plastic bags or straws provoke a huge backlash?

The answer, I believe, is twofold. The first is enormous investment in R&D. World War II levels. We need to invent the equivalent of radar, codebreaking, and the atomic bomb. The second is, in keeping with spirit of the GND, enormous infrastructure buildout. We have the technology to electrify a big part of our economy already if we only commit the dollars to do it. Both of these initiatives would be popular since they generate economic activity and put people to work. If we manage to demonstrate the minimal sacrifice necessary to fund them with a substantial progressive carbon tax, we have a plan. It’s not a perfect plan. It’s probably not enough all by itself. And it’s not guaranteed to work.

But it’s also not guaranteed to fail.

So, what we need is massive, massive investment in R&D that will ultimately change carbon emissions for the whole damn world.  Is the reach-for-the-skies, clearly unrealistic (e.g., zero omissions by 2030) the best way to get there politically?  Probably not, but I’m open to the idea that it is.  As 538’s Maggie Koerth-Baker puts it, “The Green New Deal Is Impractical, But ‘Practical’ Solutions Haven’t Worked Either.”  But, what I am confident is that policy-wise, we absolutely have to think about what we can do in the U.S. that will ultimately make a difference on a global scale.

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