Energy & Environment

The Green New Deal Is Everything That’s Wrong with Progressive Environmentalism

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Progressivism is the priority, not environmentalism.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t write about a resolution introduced by a freshman member of Congress. But most freshmen don’t have 2.8 million Twitter followers, and most freshmen don’t have their first resolution covered by CNN, NBC, NPR, the Washington Post, Fox, USA Today, and virtually every other hard-news outlet in the country. It’s being talked about everywhere, so it’s worth addressing here.

I’ve read it (it’s only 14 pages), and it’s a perfect symbol of the problems with progressive environmentalism. It’s a perfect representation of why so many Americans don’t heed alarmist warnings and why they reject the sweeping reforms demanded by the environmental Left.

Why? Because when you read the document you quickly realize that progressivism is the priority, not the environment. In other words, environmentalism and progressivism are wrongly treated as fundamentally inseparable.

Before we dig into the text, let me put my cards on the table. I believe that mankind negatively influences the climate (though the precise extent of that influence is debatable), that it is in our interests to prudently reduce carbon emissions — while also seeking economic development at home and abroad — and that sober-minded cost-benefit analyses of proposed environmental policies are often lost in the avalanche of alarmist rhetoric. Like many Americans, I’d call myself “climate-concerned.”

And as a climate-concerned American, I find much of the most alarmist rhetoric around climate change facially unconvincing. Instead, it often looks as if the climate argument is pretext for justifying a host of other progressive policies, including progressive policies that have only the most attenuated relationship (if any relationship at all) to climate change. There are a few sure-fire tells — does the progressive climate-change policy inexplicably go after nuclear power? Does it move into condemnations of racism and sexism? Does it advocate redistributive economic policies?

The Green New Deal hits the trifecta. First, the text of the resolution omits nuclear power from the proposal, saying instead that “100 percent of the power demand in the United States” should be met “through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” According to fact sheets distributed by her office, the Green New Deal “would not include creating new nuclear plants.” It goes on to say that “it’s unclear if we will be able to decommission every nuclear plant in 10 years, but the plan is to transition off of nuclear and all fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

But wait. If the planet faces a climate emergency, why the call to end nuclear power? Writing today in Forbes, Michael Shellenberger argues persuasively that closing nuclear plants will likely increase greenhouse-gas emissions as utilities scramble to make up the power shortfall. He points to the example of Vermont, one of the nation’s most environmentalist states. Despite an aggressive commitment to renewable energy, its emissions rose when the Vermont Yankee nuclear-power plant closed. Renewables simply couldn’t close the gap.

There is much more to say about nuclear power, but given its enormous (and quite clean and safe) energy output compared with renewables, any decision to intentionally abandon nuclear power is inconsistent with claims of a climate emergency and undermines climate alarmism. Indeed, a 2018 MIT study group argued that nuclear power was “essential to achieving a deeply decarbonized energy future in many regions of the world.”

Next, the Green New Deal veers early and often into identity politics. The resolution actually says the following race and gender issues are “related” to climate change:

(B) 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

(C) a gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median

Moreover, it declares that it is the “duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—”

(E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.

This isn’t environmentalism, it’s intersectionality. And it’s intersectionality supplemented with a giant dose of income redistribution and economic populism. As part of the Green New Deal, the resolution laments the concentration of wealth in the hands of the top 1 percent and seeks to “guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”

Oh, and the Green New Deal also includes a pledge that the federal government will make sure that “all people of the United States” receive “high quality health care, affordable, safe, and adequate housing, [and] economic security.” The fact sheet even pledges to provide economic security for all those who are “unable or unwilling to work.” (Emphasis added.)

To fight climate change, we have to make sure that Bubba never has to leave his Xbox.

And, by the way, I haven’t even touched the truly unbelievable objectives, like “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States” or the fact sheet’s announced goals of constructing high-speed rail to such an extent that “air travel stops becoming necessary” and to “replace every combustion-engine vehicle.” Indeed, the mainstream media is lavishing coverage on a document that actually contains this sentence (emphasis added):

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.

Keep in mind, because of Ocasio-Cortez’s immense Twitter following and the extraordinary media coverage of her every move, her Green New Deal may now be the most famous environmentalist proposal in the United States.

Nobody has to be a progressive to be concerned about the environment. Nobody has to be a progressive to respond to climate change. Any proposal that conditions response to climate change on the adoption of the full progressive platform is not only doomed to fail, but raises the question of whether the declared climate emergency is more pretext than crisis. There’s a need for a serious discussion about our climate. The Green New Deal is not serious.

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David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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