The Green New Deal, which was proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported by numerous presidential candidates, has received a great deal of attention. Proponents advocate that the plan is necessary to reduce carbon emissions. Proponents also claim that implementing green technology, such as upgrading buildings for energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources, will create jobs.
Critics claim that the cost would be massive – one estimate places the cost of the Green New Deal between $51 and $93 trillion over the next decade. This would require approximately $0.25 to $0.44 of every dollar of economic output to be dedicated to its implementation. Such a shift in resources has never been attempted outside of a time of war. Critics also question whether shifting to 100 percent renewable transportation and energy generation within the next decade is technologically feasible.
What gets lost in the discussion of the Green New Deal is that the United States is not the primary problem with regard to carbon emissions. The U.S. is responsible for only 14 percent of worldwide emissions and U.S. emissions are falling. In 2016, they were 12 percent lower than in 2005, bringing emissions back to an early 1900s level. This is in large part due to expanded natural gas use. Electricity generated from coal in the U.S. has declined by approximately 40 percent since the year 2000, with electricity generated by natural gas increasing by roughly the same percentage. Generating electricity from natural gas produces half the carbon emissions that coal does. The switch to natural gas came about largely because of fracking, which caused natural gas prices to fall by about 50 percent since the mid-2000s, giving energy companies a financial incentive to switch from coal to natural gas-fired power plants.
China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide – its emissions have more than tripled since the year 2000, rising from three gigatons in 2000 to ten gigatons in 2018. China now emits more carbon dioxide than the U.S. and European Union combined. Electricity generation, through coal-fired power plants, is the single largest source of carbon emissions. While the U.S. has reduced its reliance on coal-generated electricity, China is increasing its reliance on it, recently announcing that it will increase its coal-generated electricity capacity by 25 percent.
Critics of the Green New Deal have a point that it is technologically and economically infeasible to switch to completely renewable energy for electricity and transportation in order to drive carbon emissions in the U.S. down to zero. Currently, driving our country’s carbon emissions from the current level of five gigatons a year to zero would not be enough to offset the rise in Chinese carbon dioxide emissions.
Green New Deal proponents are right to say that climate change needs to be addressed; but doing so requires diplomacy and a worldwide climate agreement. The U.S. acting unilaterally through the Green New Deal would impose substantial economic costs while having minimal impact on global carbon emissions.