The idea of a Green New Deal has risen fast on the nation's political agenda. Many congressional Democrats find value in its impact on climate change as well as social and economic justice goals they hope to put center stage in the 2020 elections.
The media have seized on the idea, favorably and not, in part because Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backs it. Along with Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, she is co-sponsoring a nonbinding congressional resolution for a Green New Deal that calls for a "10-year national mobilization" to shift away from fossil fuels in response to climate change.
Their Green New Deal also calls for major economic reforms and infrastructure investments to stimulate job creation and economic growth and to promote greater social and economic equity.
These are ideas that are consistent with emerging views of the Democratic Party's progressive wing. To judge from recent polls, they also have strong support among voters in both political parties.
Of course, the combination of diverse and unrelated proposals, many still being fleshed out, makes serious evaluation of a Green New Deal difficult. Think vision statement or framework more than polished plan. Many details can be found in a 40-page report by Data for Progress and others will be forthcoming.
The short answer to the core question is that a Green New Deal in some form may well be feasible as well as affordable. Much depends on which formulation is being assessed, over what time, and with what assumptions about overall costs and benefits for the American people, and for that matter, the world.
As expected, conservatives have been quick to denounce the proposal as irresponsible and costly. They tend to discount burdens already imposed by a rapidly changing climate and the enormous risks and costs posed by climate change for the future. A major scientific report from 13 federal agencies last November estimated that the U.S. economy could shrink as much as 10 percent by 2100 because of climate change.
According to a recent Brookings Institution study, much of that damage will likely occur in states that voted for President Donald Trump. Perhaps residents eventually will see the economic logic of acting on climate change.
In 2017, record storms, floods, and wildfires in the U.S. cost an estimated $306 billion in damages. In 2018, NOAA reported that 14 weather disasters cost the nation at least $1 billion each and killed more than 247 people. The total price tag for the nation's economy was nearly $100 billion.
How much is it worth to reduce such damage in the future? Surely the question merits careful study. Moreover, it is likely that many policy actions will pay for themselves through averted costs of this kind.
As is the case with most policy proposals, advocates for change must defend the specific recommendations against skeptics. This will take place in congressional hearings and around the country.
Many states and localities have taken significant actions on climate change, renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency as well as sustainable economic development. Some advocates favor advancing nuclear power in this mix and others do not. National policies could build on what these states and localities already have accomplished.
For example, carbon taxes, including rebate systems where fees imposed on carbon sources are fully returned to citizens, have decreased reliance on oil, coal, and natural gas.
More broadly, we need to figure out how best to calculate the economic benefits of acting on climate change and addressing major threats to public health and well-being. This is a national conversation very much worth having right now.
Doing so is vastly better than merely rejecting climate change as science fiction or dismissing the idea of governmental intervention as too bold or costly even to consider. Let's get started on that debate.
Michael E. Kraft is professor emeritus of political science and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.