The economics of the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal plan proposed jointly by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and senator Ed Markey has been attacked not only by Donald Trump and Republicans but by incrementalist Democrats who never seem to realize that one must stake out bold positions initially if one is to shift the debate away from the status quo. As I said in a comment to my post on senator Diane Feinstein’s dismissive attitude to the children who urged her to sign on to the GND, in negotiations, you have to start out with the maximal position and then bargain down from there. That is how you push the envelope. It is because of this kind of relentless pushing by Bernie Sanders that the ideas of higher minimum wages, Medicare for all, and affordable college tuition, derided just four years ago as being unrealistic, are now embraced by nearly all Democratic presidential candidates.

Republicans understand that maximalist game and play it all the time. Too many Democrats like Feinstein start out with what they think the opposition will accept and then get beaten down even further. It has happened so many times (the debate over Obamacare was a great example) that I think it is not that they are stupid, but a strategy. They like portraying themselves as being ‘pragmatic’ and ‘incremental’ because it pleases their big money donor base since nothing really changes.

But what about the economics of the GND? Jeffrey Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, says that its critics are wrong and that the proposals it advocates are feasible and affordable. He says that the plan has three main goals.

The first is to decarbonize the US energy system — that is, to end the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and natural gas, in order to stop global warming.

The second is to guarantee lower-cost, high-quality health coverage for all.

The third is to ensure decent jobs and living standards for all Americans, in part by making colleges and vocational schools affordable for all.

The right wing and corporate lobbies are already hyperventilating: It is unachievable; it will bankrupt us; it will make us into Venezuela.

These claims are dead wrong. The Green New Deal agenda is both feasible and affordable. This will become clear as the agenda is turned into specific legislation for energy, health care, higher education, and more.

The key ideas of the Green New Deal — decarbonization, lower-cost health care, and decent living standards for the working class — have been studied for years. The Green New Deal Resolution is the opportunity, finally, to put that vast knowledge into effect.

What is absolutely clear is that the Green New Deal is affordable. The claims about the unaffordability of these goals are pure hype. The detailed plans that will emerge in the coming months will expose the bluster.

The Green New Deal proponents are absolutely correct on the merits. Decarbonization, Medicare for All, debt-free higher education, and other social benefits are feasible, affordable, and smart. They will deliver great savings in the case of health care, environmental benefits in the case of decarbonization, and renewed social mobility in the case of debt-free higher education.

Sachs goes on to detail his arguments as to why the GND is a good plan for the future.

Sachs is an interesting case. He has been a consultant to governments around the world. When I read his 2005 book The End of Poverty, he seemed to be pushing what I considered standard western establishment policies on poverty reduction. I wouldn’t have labeled him as a neoliberal but he came close. But over time he has changed and become far more radical, pushing for aggressive measures to combat the vast and growing inequalities that he sees occurring around the world and the danger that lack of action on the climate poses.


  1. Mark Dowd says

    …incrementalist Democrats who never seem to realize that one must stake out bold positions initially if one is to shift the debate away from the status quo.

    Bullshit. They do know this, and it’s exactly what they don’t want.

  2. Bruce says

    If they wanted, in one day Congress and Trump could pass a law that simply authorized the TVA to expand its solar and wind energy programs nationwide. They can issue bonds immediately to raise private financing for power plants that are more profitable than existing coal power plants. They could replicate their existing designs, buy land all over, and start making Green utilities nationwide, as they already do profitably in the Tennessee Valley area. No further details are needed for enabling legislation, beyond just saying to do it ok.

  3. lanir says

    I recently learned that large scale projects like this have a far longer history of success than I’d personally realized. There appears to be a significant body of work pointing to a 4500 year history of such things working:

    So the conservatives can stop hyperventilating. This really is harkening back to a prior age. It even involves religion so we’re checking all sorts of boxes for them.

    I think the reason that people with a lot of money resist such projects is because they tend to employ a lot of people so the money gets spread out more than it would be if the government were funding something less bold. They’d rather have government money get funneled into areas where they understand how to manipulate the margins better or already have structures in place that shift all but a tiny percentage of the profit away from the workers who create their product.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 EnlightenedLiberal

    I think we are in the realm of dueling experts here as the rebuttal to your first cite indicates.

    My casual reading over the last 10 years or so suggests that renewables can do the job in most instances but there may be a place for nukes.

  5. jrkrideau says

    Basically the mantra “We cannot afford it” can usually be interpreted as “It means change and I am not willing to give up my privileges” combined with not enough imagination to realise that things may not have to be done the same way all the time.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Mark Jacobson is a well-known liar and fraud.

    Jacobson’s principle academic paper (100% WWS) has been rebutted in the same peer reviewed journal by 21 other authors, and rather than publishing another rebuttal paper in the same journal (or elsewhere), Jacobson did the well-known tactic of all paid shills -- he sued the 21 authors and the journal itself for defamation.

    The one that really gets me is that Jacobson once wrote an article for Scientific American, where he claimed that nuclear produces 25x as much CO2 as wind, and if you dig through his peer-reviewed papers as I have, this is what you find: First, his own paper that he uses (without citation) says “9 -- 25x”, and that number is based on another paper of his authorship. When you look at that paper, you see that the number is composed primarily of CO2 emissions from coal, and CO2 emissions from burning cities from an assumed periodic recurring nuclear war that happens every 30 years. Now, go back to the Scientific American (non-peer reviewed) article, and remember how he said that nuclear produces 25x as much CO2 as wind. It’s clear that he wrote these two papers for the express purpose in order to horribly quote mine them later.

    I can go on for a while. The man is a scam-artist. Probably a paid shill of the fossil fuel lobby, just like the paid shills before him who were hired to cast doubt on other scientific topics like leaded gasoline, tobacco products, etc.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I mean, hell, you’re quoting Jacobson replying to Clack et al, the 21 authors that I mentioned earlier, whom Jacobson sued for defamation (also suing the journal itself). Jacobson is scum. And yet, he’s considered by many in the Green movement to be the foremost scientific expert in transitioning to Green energy. This is my central bit of evidence for my belief that the Green movement is intellectually rotten to the core, and no better than a religious cult. And I’m not alone in that assessment -- famous climate scientist James Hansen has described the Green movement as religious or semi-religious or something.

  8. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I strongly encourage you to read the original back-and-forth between Clack et al and Jacobson, to see how his original 100% WWS paper was horribly flawed, and how Jacobson is practically lying in order to avoid Clack et al’s critiques. A lot of the analysis focuses on Jacobson’s improper modeling of hydro assets, and Jacobson subsequent explanations which I believe to be ad-hoc ass-pulls.

    He’s a paper that includes links to the first 4 back-and-forth replies.

    Here’s a starting news article about the defamation lawsuit that Jacobson issued (and later retracted IIRC) based on this back-and-forth and associated published paper by Clack et al.

    You could not have picked a worse expert if you tried. Furthermore, it further bolsters my point that the very first “expert” that you found just happened to be the most famous con-artist in the movement. It just shows how little that the academic community and the Green movement are able to police their own. It’s a religious cult.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Here are the links for the part where Jacobson lied in the Scientific American article. He said, without context, that nuclear produces 25x as much CO2 as wind, and said practically nothing more about it. Presumably he based it on his own peer reviewed work from a year or two prior, where he derived that number by including large amounts of CO2 emissions from coal, and of course the infamous CO2 emissions from burning cities from periodic recurring nuclear wars. And again, he didn’t mention any of that context in the Scientific American article. The man is a bald-faced liar, and should have been driven out of academia many years ago.

    The Scientific American article in question:

    Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.

    And the two papers that I mentioned:

    Second, nuclear energy results in 9–25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, in part due to emissions from uranium refining and transport and reactor construction (e.g., Lenzen, 2008; Sovacool, 2008), in part due to the longer time required to site, permit, and construct a nuclear plant compared with a wind farm (resulting in greater emissions fromthe fossil-fuel electricity sector during this period; Jacobson, 2009), and in part due to the greater loss of soil carbon due to the greater loss in vegetation resulting from covering the ground with nuclear facilities relative to wind turbine towers, which cover little ground.

    (Embedded URLs in the first paper make it clear that the citation above is referring to the second paper.)

    We also examine CO2e emissions of each technology due to planning and construction delays relative to those from the technology with the least delays (‘‘opportunity-cost emissions’’), leakage from geological formations of CO2 sequestered by coal-CCS, and the emissions from the burning of cities resulting from nuclear weapons explosions potentially resulting from nuclear energy expansion.
    The explosion of fifty 15 kt nuclear devices (a total of 1.5 MT, or 0.1% of the yields proposed for a full-scale nuclear war) during a limited nuclear exchange in megacities could burn 63–313 Tg of fuel, adding 1–5 Tg of soot to the atmosphere, much of it to the stratosphere, and killing 2.6–16.7 million people.68 The soot emissions would cause significant short and medium-term regional cooling.70 Despite short-term cooling, the CO2 emissions would cause long-term warming, as they do with biomass burning.62 The CO2 emissions from such a conflict are estimated here from the fuel burn rate and the carbon content of fuels. Materials have the following carbon contents: plastics, 38–92%; tires and other rubbers, 59–91%; synthetic fibers, 63–86%;71 woody biomass, 41–45%; charcoal, 71%;72 asphalt, 80%; steel, 0.05–2%. We approximate roughly the carbon content of all combustible material in a city as 40–60%. Applying these percentages to the fuel burn gives CO2 emissions during an exchange as 92–690 Tg CO2. The annual electricity production due to nuclear energy in 2005 was 2768 TWh yr. If one nuclear exchange as described above occurs over the next 30 yr, the net carbon emissions due to nuclear weapons proliferation caused by the expansion of nuclear energy worldwide would be 1.1–4.1 g CO2 kWh, where the energy generation assumed is the annual 2005 generation for nuclear power multiplied by the number of yr being considered. This emission rate depends on the probability of a nuclear exchange over a given period and the strengths of nuclear devices used. Here, we bound the probability of the event occurring over 30 yr as between 0 and 1 to give the range of possible emissions for one such event as 0 to 4.1 g CO2 kWh. This emission rate is placed in context in Table 3.

    All conveniently available from Jacobson’s own Stanford university website.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To jrkrideau
    No replies from you. I would at least like an acknowledgment that you (accidentally) cited an academic conman, and an apology, and a promise that you won’t ever cite Jacobson again. Am I going to get that?

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