Opinion |

Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal Is Surest Way to Lose War on Climate Change

Its backers have added so much ideological baggage to their plan that it would make it harder to deal with the threat

David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg
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F-35B Lightning II's with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the Wake Island Avengers, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), fly over Wake Island on August 1, 2018. - Climate change and a deteriorating environment are likely to fuel social disorder and could threaten some US military bases, a top admiral said on February 12, 2019. Admiral Philip Davidson, who heads the US military's vast Indo-Pacific Command, told lawmakers he concurred with a recent assessment from the US intelligence community that listed climate change as a global threat.
Weaponized climate change: It's a war - and meanwhile, some U.S. military bases will vanish under the waves as the planet warms and the seas rise Credit: AFP
David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg

Do you ever wonder why Republicans in America are so resolutely opposed to the idea that climate change is real? After all, it’s not as if the party normally takes sides on scientific controversies like whether Pluto is a planet, cold fusion, or the extinction of the eastern puma.

It’s true that the addressing climate change is bad for business, which naturally arouses GOP anxiety. But then again, the end of life on earth as we know it, wouldn’t be great for business either. Even Trump can appreciate that property values in Manhattan will collapse if the island is under several feet of water due to rising sea levels.

The real reason that climate change arouses such visceral anger among Republicans and other conservatives isn’t the science. It's the conclusions the science requires, namely that governments must lead a coordinated worldwide response.

Climate change hits all the GOP’s red buttons – massive state intervention and global cooperation led by pointy-headed bureaucrats.

It means that the core ideals of rugged individualism, the primacy of the nation-state and the power of free markets that U.S. conservatives cherish are distressingly irrelevant. Faced with becoming ideological Luddites, they don’t just reject the solution to climate change, they reject the science.

You shouldn’t smugly assume that the left’s interest in climate change is entirely grounded in science either. It pushes all their ideological joy buttons. The difference is that recognition of climate change in the end has real science behind it, while rejection is basically the stuff of cranks.

The unveiling last week of the Green New Deal by super-star Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some white senator guy from Massachusetts lays bare how much climate change is about politics and not about science.

Weaponizing the war on climate change

The bottom line is that the fight against climate change has to be led by government, and ways have to be found of helping people like coal miners who are going to inevitably be hurt. But the GND plan laid out by the Democrats goes far beyond that. It calls for a socioeconomic revolution that plays to all the preoccupations of the American left these days.

In doing so, it weaponizes the war on climate change into an ideological and political struggle.

It’s easy to attack or defend the GND. It is filled with grandiose goals like a 10-year deadline to achieve goals that experts say will take decades. Also, it contains no explicit plans about how to achieve them.

But what is particularly damaging to the climate change fight is how the GND employs a kind of green intersectionality (i.e., overlaps) by inserting all other kinds of irrelevant policy goals into its agenda.

Among other things it calls for the government to ensure a guaranteed “living wage job to every person who wants one.” It throws in what it calls “additional measures” legislating for basic incomes for all Americans and universal healthcare.

There are umpteenth references to gender, people of color and marginalized communities, music to the ears of the Democratic left’s preoccupation with identity politics but is not particular relevant to environmental issues. There is a lot of talk about ensuring the process is done democratically and with community and union involvement, which will achieve exactly the opposite result of slowing down the process.

Indeed, GND supporters got their first taste of what democracy will mean when union leaders made clear they wouldn’t support the GND at all. It’s not going to be the fantasy about everyone coming together to rubber stamp what GND advocates want.

The problem climate change presents, even among the majority of people who recognize the threat and the need to act, is that it is a slow, insidious process. It’s like heart disease: You can tell people to eat right and exercise, but until their first heart attack, they are unlikely to do so.

The Paris Accord on climate change so far hasn’t met its goals because there’s no sense of urgency. Short-term considerations like jobs inevitably get pushed to the top of the priorities list.

GND backers would do the cause of climate change a lot of good by dropping the ideological baggage and working toward a pragmatic program that makes use of regulations, tax and other incentives and subsidies. In the right environment, business will accomplish more than government – just look at the progress on electric and self-driving vehicles in the last few years.

More than that, governments have to convince the public. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for a major crisis with easy-to-understand cause-and-effect elements. The 1973 oil crisis that caused gasoline prices to skyrocket and long lines to form at filling stations is a good precedent.

The crisis didn’t last long, but it was traumatic enough that in the years following energy awareness grew and energy efficiency improved considerably. It led to the formation of the U.S. Department of Energy, the first fuel efficiency and appliance standards and research into more efficient technologies. Oil use in 2012 was lower than in 1973 despite the U.S. economy being three times larger.

The change happened with little fanfare and wasn’t as inspiring as winding climate change into a historic opportunity to eliminate poverty and ensure inclusiveness, but it’s more likely to address the real threat.

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