green deal illustration

(Michael Koval/Emerald)

The Green New Deal has shown up on the ballot list of many Democratic primary candidates, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. This deal, popularized by freshman New York U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey last year, is the latest governmental effort to mitigate the U.S.’s carbon footprint.

The U.S. is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, behind China, which has over three times the population size. The deal is ambitious because it would require the U.S. to become completely carbon neutral — not producing any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — by 2030. This goal was set to avoid hitting the environmental tipping points, which would result in runaway climate change.

The deal is more than just a climate change policy because it also addresses unemployment. That’s how it relates to the original New Deal by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which brought about millions of infrastructure jobs to push the country out of the Great Depression. It would require all hands on deck to drastically move the current infrastructure away from relying on oil and coal and onto renewable energy in a little over 10 years.

Because the U.S. economy is arguably founded on fossil fuels, this would be a large economic ask. Is it feasible?

Robert Whelan at ECONorthwest, the largest economic consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest, does not think so. He argues the deal is more like a ridiculous wish list.

“It is really full of crap,” Whelan said. “I was kind of taken aback.”

He, like many economic instructors asked about this, found it too vague and, thus, unrealistic. Whelan found there wasn’t enough information about how the country would move off fossil fuels. Some of the things he thinks the government could push for are increased infrastructure like electric vehicle charging systems and more efficient air conditioning systems, but he thinks too much government intervention would greatly put off conservatives.

“I’m sure Mitch McConnell and the House Republicans are thrilled that it was brought up because it is so easy to run against,” Whelan said.

Proponents of the deal argue that it at least brings climate change to the forefront of the political conversation, even if the deal itself is vague.

Some economists, including Whelan, were surprised it lacked pushing market-based options like carbon taxing and cap-and-trade, which would provide corporations economic incentives to decrease their CO2 emissions. Michael Greenstone, professor of economics at University of Chicago and former Obama economist, also found this surprising when he discussed the deal’s implications on WBUR earlier in February. He said that these taxing options might be a good way to raise the money needed to improve infrastructure.

Locally, Springfield is holding its first cap-and-invest hearing on Friday, Feb. 22, one of many taking place across Oregon to testify on House Bill 2020, which would make Oregon the second state — after California — to set umbrella economic limits on climate pollution.

Whelan finds that the deal pushed too many issues into one bill, which makes him think that it will be even less likely to get enough support. Not only does it discuss moving infrastructure toward renewable energy and preparing for climate change-exacerbated disasters, it also promises 20 million new federal jobs, increased economic welfare and global health care. Whelan says there aren’t even enough people to fill that many job openings. 

Despite being vague and broad, the Green New Deal is increasing in popularity amongst the American public. Business Insider reported this week that over 80 percent of U.S. citizens polled either somewhat, very or extremely agreed with many of the top proposals of the deal.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece agreeing that the current deal’s layout is not economically feasible, saying it “seem(s) engineered to be as expensive as possible.” It would increase the national debt significantly, with the publication estimating the Green New Deal costing trillions of dollars.

Ocasio-Cortez, who’s pushed back against the cost argument several times, said an increased national deficit has not stopped previous administrations, including the current one, from spending tons of money to reduce taxes for the wealthy. She argues that at least this time the money will be put to good use and that the deal will pay itself back.

One thing is for sure: The Green New Deal hype does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon, and as the U.S. inches closer to the Presidential Primaries, citizens should expect to hear more support, criticism and developments of the deal.

Would you like to hear more about the deal or different perspectives from different departments on what the U.S. should do to mitigate or prepare for climate change? Or do you have a take on the policy proposal? Email Becky Hoag at [email protected] or post your comments on social media.

Science and Environmental Reporter

This is Becky’s first year writing for the Daily Emerald. She specializes in science and environmental reporting. She’s also written for Envision Magazine and the SOJC Communications Office. She’s created audio pieces for KWVA and KQED.


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