“Is the Green New Deal’s ambition smart policy?”

Ann Carlson is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and the co-Faculty Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. Writing at Legal Planet, she takes on assessing the Green New Deal, admitting she is “conflicted about a proposal that seems untethered to what is actually achievable.” She begins:

At the the heart of the Green New Deal — which demands slashing U.S. carbon emissions by 2030 by shifting to 100 percent clean energy — is a major conundrum. Even the most enthusiastic proponents of ambitious climate policy don’t believe the goals are achievable, technologically let alone politically. Stanford Professor Marc Z Jacobsen, for example, among the most ardent advocates for decarbonizing the electricity grid completely, believes that we can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, three decades after the Green New Deal’s target date. Ernie Monitz, the former Secretary of Energy under President Obama, laments that he “cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in a 10-year time frame.” A number of columnists have noted that the Green New Deal will never become law because of its expense, its political impracticability and its technological infeasibility. And yet, the Green New Deal has attracted huge public support, the endorsement of all of the 2020 Democratic candidates for President, and a large number of Senators and members of Congress. It promises to mobilize a generation of young activists to work to solve the existential crisis of their lives.

Read on. She’s more optimistic than it sounds, although, I think Professor Carlson is realistic.

I remarked in a comment:

I wish the GND proponents well, too, although I worry about a couple of things.

First, the comparison with other environmental programs, while inspiring, is a little inappropriate. There has never been a problem of this scale, and not one whose amplification is so thoroughly integrated in with the daily comforts of affluent humans. Fossil fuels do have high energy densities, and that can be convenient.

Also, related to this, benefits do not accrue if we simply cease emitting. We have a timetable, and Nature will not scrub the harmful materials on any reasonable human timetable, and conditions at the moment we succeed at achieving zero emissions will persist for centuries. The alternative, artificial removal of atmospheric CO2, is both horrifically expensive (multiples of 2014 Gross World Product size at present prices) and pursuit of the technology has been explicitly rejected by GND proponents. (They’ve ruled out advanced nuclear technologies, too.)

Second, without policy which is “tethered to what is actually achievable”, GND suggests the bar is lower than it actually is and could, in itself, both present a moral hazard and make people think climate change is not being mitigated purely for reasons of politics and greed. (This is in bounds because the rejection of negative emissions technology is done because it, too, could be a kind of moral hazard.) Sure, those are involved, but it is also true people don’t like the things that a GND-style solution, or a Professor Mark Z Jacobson solution entail. In my opinion, their choice is silly, but people are people.

Third, aspirational, engineering-free solutions to big, big problems are likely to founder, because they won’t assess and contain their own complications, particularly if they are rushed. Uncoordinated rollout of zero Carbon energy won’t only trash pieces of the grid which will have repercussions for the less well off and people of color, but could also exacerbate climate conditions and regional weather. Large scale plantings, for example, of Jatropha curcas, thought to be a way of doing rapid CO2 drawdown and projecting biodiesel oils, could change albedo in the wrong direction for the arid regions it loves, and, indeed, could do itself in if the same regions transform into tropics. Uncoordinated rollouts of wind farms will affect weather system energies. That’s no reason not to do it, but it needs to be studied and thought through.

Fourth, there is (still) a substantial education component needed, one done in a manner that evades the impression climate change-fixing proponents are pulling their punches. For if byproducts of climate change are severe enough to move people into action, and gets them to accept sacrifices needed to do so, then they probably will expect to see improvements once these changes are made. The science says that expectation is unreasonable, because of the inertia of the climate system and because the human emissions impact is a perturbation on a geological scale in a geological moment. The political ramifications of this realization are both difficult to assess but could be damaging to the long term health of the collective project.

I did not mention other things, such as the intrinsic greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, even if planting, harvesting, fertilization, transport, and processing are all decarbonized. Cement production is a big piece of emissions, too. The troubling thing is that GND doesn’t mention these: It focuses almost exclusively upon energy.

Update, 2019-02-11, 23:45 ET

Encouragement.

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This entry was posted in Anthropocene, anti-intellectualism, bollocks, bridge to somewhere, cement production, clear air capture of carbon dioxide, climate business, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, climate education, global warming, Green New Deal, greenhouse gases, negative emissions, zero carbon. Bookmark the permalink.

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