Lit­tle of bal­ly­hooed Green New Deal is based on re­al­ity

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion - Jonah Gold­berg Jonah Gold­berg is a fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a se­nior ed­i­tor of Na­tional Re­view. Email him at gold­berg col­[email protected] gmail.com.

On Thurs­day, Rep. Alexan­dria OcasioCortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-mass., in­tro­duced what many news out­lets de­scribed as “leg­is­la­tion” for the Green New Deal, a wildly am­bi­tious plan to elim­i­nate the Amer­i­can fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try within a decade or so. It’s worth not­ing that it’s not leg­is­la­tion as peo­ple nor­mally un­der­stand the term. It’s a res­o­lu­tion ti­tled “Rec­og­niz­ing the duty of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a Green New Deal.” In other words, even if it passed — a con­sid­er­able if — noth­ing would re­ally hap­pen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t tak­ing it too se­ri­ously. She didn’t put Oca­sio-cortez on the new Se­lect Com­mit­tee on the Cli­mate Cri­sis, and when asked about the res­o­lu­tion, she was dis­mis­sive.

“It will be one of sev­eral or maybe many sugges­tions that we re­ceive,” Pelosi said. “The green dream or what­ever they call it, no­body knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”

I bring this up for the sim­ple rea­son that a lot of peo­ple on the left and right have ev­ery in­cen­tive to make this thing a much big­ger deal than it is.

Still, given that al­most ev­ery­one run­ning for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion feels obliged to say they’re for it, it’s worth tak­ing some­what se­ri­ously.

This raises the first of sev­eral prob­lems: It’s not a very se­ri­ous pro­posal. The goal is to elim­i­nate the fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try over a decade and, per­versely, phase out nu­clear power over a slightly longer pe­riod. All of the jobs de­pen­dent on these in­dus­tries would be re­placed by gov­ern­ment-guar­an­teed jobs.

“We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emis­sions, in 10 years,” the back­ers ex­plain in an out­line, “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.”

Well, at least the plan isn’t too am­bi­tious. Retrofitting “ev­ery build­ing in Amer­ica” can be done in 10 years, but elim­i­nat­ing all the gassy cows will take a bit longer. Maybe we’ll move them all to Hawaii, which with the near-abo­li­tion of air­planes will be ef­fec­tively cut off from Amer­ica any­way.

Even if you take these goals se­ri­ously, as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter it’s a fan­tasy mas­querad­ing as green virtue-sig­nal­ing.

But it’s a fan­tasy based on a world­view that should be treated se­ri­ously be­cause it’s so dan­ger­ous. NPR’S Steve Inskeep asked Oca­sio-cortez whether she was com­fort­able with the “mas­sive gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion” crit­ics say is re­quired by such an un­der­tak­ing.

“We have tried their ap­proach for 40 years,” Oca­sio-cortez replied. “For 40 years we have tried to let the pri­vate sec­tor take care of this. They said, ‘We got this, we can do this, the forces of the mar­ket are go­ing to force us to in­no­vate.’ Ex­cept for the fact that there’s a lit­tle thing in eco­nom­ics called ex­ter­nal­i­ties. And what that means is that a cor­po­ra­tion can dump pol­lu­tion in the river and they don’t have to pay for it, and tax­pay­ers have to pay.”

The fas­ci­nat­ing thing is that Oca­sio-cortez thinks this is ac­tu­ally true.

Thanks to the gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion known as the Clean Wa­ter Act and other reg­u­la­tions, cor­po­ra­tions can’t pol­lute wa­ter­ways. Iron­i­cally, the only en­ti­ties that can pol­lute with im­punity are gov­ern­ment agen­cies such as the EPA, which did pre­cisely that in Colorado in 2015.

Even if Oca­sio-cortez was speak­ing fig­u­ra­tively in her talk of “ex­ter­nal­i­ties,” the larger point re­mains. The free mar­ket hasn’t been given free rein, and over the past 40 years the free mar­ket and gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions alike have made laud­able en­vi­ron­men­tal progress. In 2017, the U.S. had the largest re­duc­tions of CO2 emis­sions in the world for the ninth time this cen­tury. Rather than cel­e­brate and build on that re­al­ity, the Green New Deal­ers would rather em­brace their fan­tasies — and waste a lot of time and money in the process.

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