This week, I sat down with Dr. Marc Schwerdt, a professor of political science here at Lipscomb to discuss and go over the potential successes and shortcomings of The Green New Deal. Before we get into the some of the points made within the interview, I would like to go over just what exactly the Green New Deal is and what it entails.
The Green New Deal is a sweeping and newly-proposed resolution that is being championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. While it was mentioned all the way back in November after AOC won her congressional race in New York, the actual document containing the details and provisions behind a new ten-year plan was first introduced to Congress on Feb. 7 of this year.
The Green New Deal declares that “because the United States has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, having emitted 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions through 2014, and has a high technological capacity, the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation.”
Therefore, there are many domestically-centered projects and objectives outlined within the resolution that revolve around a global concern for our environment. AOC looks for America to move to a system of 100 percent clean, renewable energy by around 2030, and the deal also looks for the world to be able to have net-zero emissions by 2050.
Not only would we be moving away from greenhouse gases and fossil fuels, but this also includes the decommissioning of all nuclear plants. According to the document, if we do nothing to reverse the effects of climate change, we will see an increase in sea levels, wildfires and storms; along with other cases of extreme weather that could be deemed life-threatening. It goes on to say that climate change could cause damage to the economy, as it is predicted to cause up to a trillion dollars in damage to the American infrastructure.
The resolution also declares that there is a connection between climate change and worsening social issues, like factors contributing to a decrease in life expectancy and economic stagnation through eroding wages and income inequality.
The Green New Deal states that basic needs for life such as clean air and water, food, healthcare, housing, transportation and education are not being consistently met by the United States government. The document also reports that according to studies, we are currently suffering from the worst income gap since the 1920s and claims that hourly wages have not increased proportionately in the face of increasing productivity since the 1970s. In full effect, both of these issues are said to disproportionately impact what the resolution calls “frontline and vulnerable communities.”
This is because the people groups listed in the document are believed to require more help from the government, as they cannot afford or overcome these “systemic injustices” on their own.
In order to do away with climate change and end the marginalizing of the people groups most affected, there are about seven primary solutions or goals within the Green New Deal that I would like to highlight. The resolution seeks to accomplish all of these goals in the span of ten years and claims that its success will lead to economic stability and a united or shared prosperity between inhabitants of the United States.
These highlighted goals in the resolution are as follows: zero carbon emissions, an environmental retrofitting of every building in the United States, access to free college, the installment of universal healthcare, a complete continental overhaul of transportation moving away from airplanes to high-speed trains, millions of government-provided jobs at wages that enable workers to support a family and economic security for those who might be either unable or unwilling to work. These goals are a pivotal part of this document, as it allows the public to judge or measure the levels of success maintained by the Green New Deal if put into action.
Therefore, the debate about the Green New Deal is not over the existence of climate change; the debate lies in the questions of if climate change will have these impacts: are these solutions realistic, and do we have the ability to implement them?
It was these questions that I attempted to find answers to within my interview with Dr. Schwerdt.
Regarding the plausibility of these goals, Dr. Schwerdt said that “the only thing in that, that seems to have some sort of attainability, because we’ve seen it become something that other countries have had at least attempted and have had some success at might be on healthcare and might be on education. What happens in both of those cases, however, is you do have economies that do not perform as strongly as ours; you have rationing that goes on even within education, and then because of that, what they try to do is sort of ignore the fact that there is always more demand for what they are offering than what they can actually provide . . . It seems to me that what they are trying to do by calling this a Green New Deal is that by making it environmental and then linking it with the social programs that came about with the original New Deal, that they’ve got a perfect kind of agenda that then starts a momentum of its own.”
Then we dove further into speaking to some of the specific goals. Reaching zero carbon emissions without the use of nuclear power presents itself to be a major obstacle.
He says that “we haven’t shown much ability to jump over sort of a difficult time where you actually go through some growing pains where there’s pollution and that kind of thing, because we really haven’t made the clean energy stuff economical; we haven’t made it fulfill our needs, especially if you are going to take nuclear out of the problem.
Nuclear energy is kind of a cornerstone of clean stuff, the latest generation of nuclear technology actually can consume the nuclear waste itself, so we might actually be able to do away with our disposal problem.”
Furthermore, he commented on the idea of economic stagnation in part due to income inequality saying that “inequality in and of itself can be a very difficult subject and be a very relevant subject and something we should be concerned about, but what we also have to kind of remember is those that we saw as being wealthy suffered disproportionately through the recession, they gained back more because they lost more.
Now, we do have a greater distance between say the lowest 20 percent and the upper 20 percent than we’ve ever had, but at the same time we have extremely low unemployment, we have rising wages and we do have a better performing economy.”
He also says that in light of all these goals and especially in the shifting of transportation, “that in trying to solve all of our problems by dealing with this one problem [climate change] they are overpromising for sure, and a real kind of kick at this is the fact that California finally cancelled their big train project; if California, which is equivalent to the sixth-largest economy in the world, can’t afford it, how are you going to be able to do that with the entire United States? . . . air travel is cheaper than trains, and it takes a lot of industrial activity to make concrete, to build the lines, and to build the trains . . . where are we going to get people who can do all of this? You have to have skilled tradesman to do it, and we don’t have the educational infrastructure to really train bricklayers, engineers and all the other specialized people.”
The technology is simply not far enough along for all of these goals to be accomplished, and some of these fixes are directed by claims that are questionable in their validity; but Dr. Schwerdt credits the Green New Deal in at least getting people to engage in discourse surrounding these issues rather than just dismissing them altogether.
Lastly, there seems to be one question above all others that has been posed by the media: how do we get the funds to pay for the Green New Deal?
AOC has proposed a 70 percent tax plan on the very wealthy, but in the Green New Deal’s FAQ document, it states that it could potentially be paid for by using the Federal Reserve to extend credit to power the projects. When
I asked Dr. Schwerdt about this solution, he stated that “we are talking about ballooning the debt to a level that would really eat away at the value of the American economy, its currency, and everything like that . . . also with high tax rates associated with that, you are cheapening what I do, what I earn from my job, and then you are also taking more from me in my taxes . . . so even if we rounded up all the billionaires and confiscated everything they had, then what’s left . . . what’s the point of me doing something that might put me in that echelon, if all I’m going to do is have it taken away again? The incentive is now gone.
“Could we have higher tax rates than we do now? Certainly. Could we cut spending in other areas? Yes. My guess would be that from this perspective what they would do is immediately cut defense spending down to almost nothing, because that’s pretty much the only place where you can get money immediately on a year-to-year basis; but that would throw a lot of people out of work.”
It seems very unclear as to whether or not this Green New Deal can pay for itself, as we don’t know if the options that have been put out there to fund it are both viable and prudent.
The Green New Deal is an ambitious document that seeks to solve many social issues by placing a focus first on fixing climate change. However, the document seems to overpromise on a lot of its goals, as we lack both the technology and time to see them accomplished.
Many of these goals are also potentially unrealistic in execution, as we are either excluding resources like nuclear power that could ease the process, or we don’t have the economic capabilities to support a goal like the countrywide implementation of high-speed trains. Finally, we are left with the issue of how to pay for it, and it is an issue that as of now, remains unresolved.
Even the FAQ isn’t keen on answering where they’ll get the money, saying that “At the end of the day, this is an investment in our economy that should grow our wealth as a nation, so the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity.”
So, while the Green New Deal has sparked a lot of positive conversations, it lacks the realism to be implemented.