The Green New Deal has been pilloried by everyone from House Leader Nancy Pelosi to basically every Republican for being too expensive. Despite that, it turns out implementing it would be really cost effective.
New research shows it’s not only “economically credible,” but also that it’s correct to assume that social welfare programs are needed to draw down carbon emissions. The analysis used the dollar amounts laid out in Senator Bernie Sanders’—who suspended his presidential campaign on Wednesday—climate plan to come to its conclusion. In doing so, it makes the case for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to, if he wins the White House, work with Democrats to pass the Green New Deal legislation introduced last year by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and build it out.
Sanders’ $16 trillion plan would radically change the U.S. economy while rapidly decarbonizing it in the coming decades. It would offset some of the costs by ending fossil fuel subsidies, reducing military spending, and selling energy created by new government-owned utilities.
The authors of the new study, published this week in Energy Research and Social Science, note that by creating 20 million jobs, the Green New Deal plan would also reduce necessary public assistance costs while increasing tax revenue. The U.S. could also create a green bonds system, wherein the government invites the public to lend it money (for what it’s worth, not everyone totally agrees with this part of their theory, but that’s a debate for another day).
To stave off any risk of inflation, the new study’s authors suggest setting a 40 percent tax increase on the wealthiest citizens in the U.S. That may sound like a lot, but the U.S. has done it before: That tax rate would be in line with the one the country had from the 1940s to 1970s.
Both Sanders plan and last year’s Congressional resolution include calls for a number of improvements to social programs, including addressing racial and gender inequities as well as retirement and leave. Those ideas are broadly popular, and the study argues that’s key to climate policy’s success.
“To sustain an intensive shift in policy, industry, commerce and lifestyle over a long period of time you would need widespread political and societal support,” lead author Raymond Galvin of the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior of the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, told Earther in an email.
Plans that focus solely on lowering greenhouse gas emissions could end up screwing the people who need help the most. For instance, when France aimed to decrease emissions by increasing fuel prices in 2018, working class protesters who were forced to bear the brunt of that cost hike held mass mobilizations in the streets for weeks.
“You need to ensure good incomes and prospects for all citizens, to keep all citizens on board,” said Galvin.
This isn’t just a practical consideration. It’s a moral one. Low-income people are the least responsible for carbon pollution. Research shows that the carbon footprints of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are up to 20 times larger than the average American.
“Reducing emissions at the scale and the speed necessary... without addressing social inequalities would be a highly unethical and ineffective strategy,” co-author Noel Healy of Salem State University told Earther in an email. “Tackling climate change and reducing economic inequality must go hand in hand.”
Right now, as they make plans to stimulate the U.S. economy through huge stimulus packages, the government has a unique opportunity to undertake this kind of massive climate plan. The authors hope presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, whose climate proposal is about a tenth the size of Sanders’ at $1.7 trillion over 10 years, will heed their call.
“We think Joe Biden and the Democratic Party hierarchy should take the Green New Deal completely seriously and adopt it,” said Galvin. “There is no longer the excuse that ‘there is no money’ to save the climate.”