By Fiona Edwards
“Many people ask what a Green New Deal entails. We are calling for a wartime-level, just, economic mobilisation plan to get to 100% renewable energy ASAP.”
AOC tweet, 2 January 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is proposing that the United States become a global leader in the battle to stop climate change by undertaking a rapid and thoroughgoing economic transformation to drastically reduce US greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years. The plan being put forward by AOC calls for the US to launch a massive programme of state investment to bring about a ‘Green New Deal’ and the necessary transformation of the economy away from a reliance on fossil fuels to 100% renewables. It is an approach that directly challenges US President Donald Trump who is currently leading the US in precisely the opposite direction. Under his Presidency the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels has massively expanded which is causing US carbon emissions to rise at a time when they should be rapidly falling.
As AOC’s resolution to Congress points out, the US has “historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions” and continues to contribute enormously to the problem of climate change. The US has a moral responsibility to play a leadership role in resolving the international climate crisis, a crisis that poses an existential threat to human civilisation and which the US has played a major role in creating. In addition to being a responsibility, leading a global effort to decarbonise the world economy does also present the US with a “historic opportunity” to break out of “a 4-decade trend of economic stagnation, deindustrialisation and anti-labour policies” to create millions of good, high wage jobs and “provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.”
The scale of the planetary emergency the world is facing was underlined by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘Special Report’ of October 2018 which outlined the disastrous impact a 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures would cause: widespread increase in famines, cities and entire countries submerged in water, deadly heatwaves, forest fires, floods and hurricanes. Global temperatures have already risen by approximately 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels and on the current trends the world is on track for 3.3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the 21st century. Humanity is currently losing the battle to stop catastrophic climate change. Urgent and massive action is needed to limit global warming to a ‘safer’ 1.5 degrees Celsius rise and major strides forward are needed within the next decade.
In light of this reality AOC’s assertion that the ‘Green New Deal’ is “going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation” is not over-blown rhetoric but entirely, as she has put herself, “the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require.”
In the FAQs section of her draft ‘Green New Deal’ published at the end of 2018 AOC made clear the scale of the investment required to bring about a massive transformation to decarbonise the US economy, citing that “at least $1 trillion” would be needed. She is also made clear about the fact that the state will need to play a “big role” in driving and making such investments.
On how to raise the funds required, her draft proposal stated:
“Many will say, “Massive government investment! How in the world can we pay for this?” The answer is: in the same ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War 2 and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WW2) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed. In addition to traditional debt tools, there is also a space for the government to take an equity role in projects, as several government-affiliated institutions already do.”
AOC’s widely publicised proposal to increase tax on the super-rich to help fund the ‘Green New Deal’, by raising the top marginal tax rate to 70% for those that make above $10million, has been very well received by the US public.
Some have dismissed AOC’s ‘Green New Deal’ as unrealistic. On the contrary, the ambition of the ‘Green New Deal’ – to make a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy and abandon fossil fuels – is entirely consistent with the what the IPCC says is necessary. The world’s carbon emissions must collectively start decreasing now and half from current levels by 2030 and this can only be achieved through the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels which must be replaced by an enormous expansion of renewable energy. And as Dean Baker points out, China is delivering its own Green New Deal right now through enormous, on-going state investment in renewables and electric cars.
It is Donald Trump’s approach that is completely unrealistic and out of step with what the international scientific consensus states is required. The US is now the number one producer of oil and gas in the world as a result of the “fracking revolution” which has seen production of unconventional fossil fuels soar. It’s a trend that the International Energy Agency is anticipating will deepen, with expectations that the US will be responsible for 75% of global oil growth and 40% of global gas growth over the next 6 years. The result of Trump’s policies on climate change has been to increase US carbon emissions, which rose by 3.4% in 2018.
Trump and the fossil fuel industry argue that aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels is necessary for economic development and that green policies are damaging to prosperity.
In reality massive state investment for a ‘Green New Deal’ could get the US economy out of its stagnation and provides a route to improving living standards as well as tackling climate change. As AOC put it in a public event on the climate change in December 2018:
“The idea that we are going to somehow lose economic activity… As a matter of fact it’s not just possible that we will create jobs and economic activity by transitioning to renewable energy but it’s inevitable that we are going to create jobs. It is inevitable that we are going to create industry and it’s inevitable that we can use the transition to 100% renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice in the US. That is our proposal.”
AOC’s ‘Green New Deal’ proposal is exactly the ambitious approach needed to save the planet and achieve a decent standard of living for all and it is the type of approach that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party front bench are also pursuing in Britain.