Is the Green New Deal Realistic?

Thoughts on a challenging letter to greenies from a prominent think tank

  • The related economic question: What’s the level of investment required to actually move the needle?
  • The political question: What’s the best path to passing something of substance given the political realities in the U.S.?

The science, mobilization, and economic questions

This is an area where I have some disagreement with Taylor. He quotes reasonable-sounding estimates on the cost of reaching the “mid-century timetable” — i.e., an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 — of about $200 to $400 billion per year. The point, he says, is that GND supporters shouldn’t overstate the scale of economic transition needed (and thus scare off some moderate skeptics and fiscal conservatives).

If we want higher odds of avoiding planetary catastrophe, we have to be much more aggressive in re-tooling the carbon economy, not less.

So on to the related economic question. Let’s agree that there are (a) plenty of climate mitigation efforts with a great short-term ROI for business and families, like renewables and efficiency but, (b) the faster pace of change needed now could mean serious investments in new infrastructure and tech, as well as real loss in parts of the economy that are disappearing, such as fossil fuels (which, to be fair, is part of the reason the GND writers included job guarantees).

The political/theory of change question

Taylor lays out what he assumes (I’m sure correctly) is the theory of change underlying the GND — that the only way to pass something like this is with a sea change in political power toward progressives, who would need to control the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.

At the federal level, being against climate action has become core to the GOP party identity.

Dave Roberts at Vox covers all of this territory extremely well, showing how extreme the voices on the right have become on this topic. Lately, they’re scaring their supporters with tales of bans on cows and how your house will lose power when all that unreliable wind stops blowing.

So, what now?

We have to keep working toward a solution. In my world, I and my peers will continue convincing business that climate action represents trillions in business opportunity and risk avoidance, and is also required by physics and morality. I’ll encourage the business community to get off the sidelines and push for political action as well. Then, maybe, some moderate GOP votes could swing.

Adviser, author, speaker on how businesses can (profitably) solve the world's mega-challenges. Author: The Big Pivot & Green to Gold