The Green New Deal

On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order announcing that the United States (US) would rejoin the Paris Agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, it took 30 days for the US to officially rejoin the Paris Agreement.

Each country that attended the 21st Conference (2015) of the Parties agreed to cut its emissions by a particular percent based on a base year’s emissions level. The United States, for example, promised to cut its emissions by up to 28 percent from 2005 levels. These promises are called intended nationally determined contributions. It was decided that each participating country would be allowed to determine its own priorities and targets since each country has different circumstances and a different capacity to undertake change.  This was the main reason that gave birth to the concept of the Green New Deal (GND) in the US.

The level of commitment to cut its emissions by particular percent was drastically changed as global average temperatures had already increased by ~1oC since pre-industrial times and climate impacts were already being felt around the world – extreme weather events, droughts, floods and more. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear that any increase in warming beyond 1.5oC by the end of the century would have significant implications.  According to the IPCC, to achieve this goal, the world needs to halve carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 2030 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It is important to remember that net-zero emissions does not mean “No Emissions”.  Under a net-zero policy, emissions can still be emitted, as long as they are offset by processes or actions that reduce the emissions already in the atmosphere. Tree planting and carbon removal are two examples of such offsets. 

A bill initially introduced on 7 February 2019 to create a GND was reintroduced recently in the US House of Representatives with the objective to:

  1. Reduce US greenhouse Gas(GHG) emissions down to net-zero and meet 100 percent of power demand in the country through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy source by 2030; and
  2. Create millions of jobs to provide a job guarantee to all Americans, along with access to nature, clean air and water, healthy food, a sustainable environment, and community resiliency. 

Here is a list of facts that are enumerated in the bill as contextual to support the bill:

  1. Human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century;
  2. A changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure;
  3. Global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrialized levels will cause:
    • Mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;
    • More than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100;
    • Wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;
    • A loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;
    • More than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and
    • A risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States; and
  4. Global temperatures must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialized levels to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate, which will require:
    • Global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030; and
    • Net-zero global emissions by 2050.

Here are some major issues which are the focus of the proposed bill:

  1. Life expectancy declining in the USA while basic needs, such as clean air, clean water, healthy food, adequate health care, housing, transportation, and education are inaccessible to a significant US population;
  2. A 4 decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and anti-labour policies that has led to:
    • Hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity;
    • The third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession;
    • The erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States; and
    • Inadequate resources for public sector workers to confront the challenges of climate change at local, State, and Federal levels.
  3. The greatest income inequality since the 1920s, with:
    • The top 1 percent of earners accruing 91 percent of gains in the first few years of economic recovery after the Great Recession;
    • A large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average white family and the average black family; and
    • A gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median.
  4. Climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this preamble as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’);
  5. Climate change constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the US:
    • By impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world; and
    • By acting as a threat multiplier.
  6. The Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the US has ever seen, but many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations.

The expected outcome of the proposed bill is articulated:

  1. The House of Representatives recognizes that a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era is a historic opportunity:
    • To create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States;
    • To provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; and
    • To counteract systemic injustices.

The GND recognizes that transition would require massive change. It endorses ways of ensuring that vulnerable populations – including the poor, people of color, indigenous populations and communities already facing environmental degradation – take part in the planning process and benefit from the green economy.  Here is a list of actions proposed to accomplish the goals of the GND:

  1. Providing investments and leveraging funding to help communities affected by climate change;
  2. Repairing and upgrading
  3. existing infrastructure to withstand extreme weather and ensuring all bills related to infrastructure in Congress address climate change;
  4. Investing in renewable power sources;
  5. Investing in manufacturing and industry to spur growth in the use of clean energy;
  6. Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and “smart” power grids that provide affordable electricity;
  7. Upgrading all existing buildings and building new ones so that they achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability;
  8. Supporting family farming, investing in sustainable farming, and building a more sustainable and equitable food system;
  9. Investing in transportation systems, namely zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, public transit, and high-speed rail;
  10. Restoring ecosystems through land preservation, afforestation, and science-based projects;
  11. Cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites;
  12. Identifying unknown sources of pollution and emissions; and
  13. Working with the international community on solutions and helping them achieve GND.

Here are some realities which demonstrate the magnitude of US Energy Consumption and associated US GHG Emissions:

  1. TOTAL US ENERGY CONSUMPTION:

Here is a graph which illustrates the US Primary Energy Consumption by Energy Source:

  • The United States uses and produces many different types and sources of energy, which can be grouped into general categories such as primary and secondary, renewable and non-renewable, and fossil fuels;
  • Primary energy sources include fossil fuels (petroleumnatural gas, and coal), nuclear energy, and renewable sources of energy. Electricity is a secondary energy source that is generated (produced) from primary energy sources;
  • Here is a graph which illustrates the US Energy Consumption by Source and Sector in 2019:
  • In 2019, the electric power sector accounted for about 96 percent of total US utility-scale electricity generation, nearly all of which was sold to the other sectors;
  • The transportation, industrial, commercial, and residential sectors are called end-use sectors because they consume primary energy and electricity produced by the electric power sector; and
  • Total energy consumption by the end-use sectors includes their primary energy use, purchased electricity, and electrical system energy losses (energy conversion and other losses associated with the generation, transmission, and distribution of purchased electricity) and other energy losses.

2. TOTAL US GHG EMISSIONS:

In 2019, US GHG emissions totaled 6,558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents or 5,769 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents after accounting for sequestration from the land sector.  These GHG emissions were 13 percent below 2005 levels.

Here is a graph:

Source: EPA

Here is another graph, illustrating the sources of GHG emissions:

Source: EPA

Critics have called the GND – too socialist, too extreme, or too impractical. 

At the same time, there is a recognition for how the previous administration dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife, and toxic chemicals.  A New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law SchoolColumbia Law School and other sources, counts nearly 100 environmental rules officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back under the previous administration. More than a dozen other potential rollbacks remained in progress by the end but were not finalized by the end of the administration’s term.

According to Eric Orts, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, the central takeaway from the Green New Deal is its emphasis on moving away from fossil fuels to renewables in order to combat climate change. “There really does need to be a major investment and shifting in where we’re sourcing our energy,” he said. “You need to move to a more electrified economy, and you need to move away from fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil.” He said the proposals drive home the point that “you need a major effort that can only be directed by a national government policy.”

15 May 2021 Kanata, Ontario, Canada