Opinion Columns & Blogs

Climate watch: It’s not the Green New Deal or nothing at all

Our public discourse encourages us to believe that we live in a world of stark binary choices. Red state-blue state, liberal-conservative, capitalist-socialist. Nuance is so 20th century.

That’s the case with the attention given to the Green New Deal, the plan championed by New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts senator Ed Markey. While its centerpiece is a stimulus program with incentives to move the United States to 100% renewable energy by 2030, the Green New Deal also contains an “economic bill of rights” involving health care, employment, housing and college tuition.

As has become the norm in our nation, the public square argument over the Green New Deal is devoid of nuance. It will save us or sink us, we’re told, depending on our tribal affiliations.

It’s very good that the Green New Deal has brought climate to the top of the priority list in Congress. It has helped to clarify the truth that there is an enormous enthusiasm among Americans for courageous climate solutions.

The Green New Deal, however, often seems to be presented in the media as the one and only design to fight climate change. It is not. Here are some others, each easily found via internet search:

  • The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — H.R. 763. This is a market-driven plan that puts a fee on carbon and returns the proceeds directly to each American household. It uses the incentives of the marketplace — not regulations — to transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy while protecting citizens from the cost of that changeover. And it includes a border adjustment to protect American businesses. It would reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent over 12 years. Unlike the Green New Deal which is a non-binding resolution, H.R. 763 is an actual bill that could become law. (Full disclosure: This is the plan preferred by Citizens’ Climate Lobby).

  • The Climate Leadership Council Plan. Like H.R. 763, this proposal, not yet offered as a bill, puts a fee on carbon and returns the money collected to each American household. It differs from the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in several respects, however, including the amount of the initial carbon fee (higher) and the rate at which it increases annually (lower).

  • Regional cooperative efforts. One example is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative program among all New England states plus New York, Maryland and Delaware. This is a “cap and trade” system that seeks to set a steadily declining regional budget for carbon dioxide emissions from the energy power sector.

  • Individual state initiatives. States and even cities are searching for what they can do. In March, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held a hearing on the Penn State campus, one of several around the state on what Pennsylvania can do on its own to fight climate change. And in late April Pennsylvania joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 24 states committed to goals outlined in the U.N. Paris Climate Agreement.

This is far from an exhaustive list. It’s meant only to point out that despite what you may hear, when it comes to battling climate change, it’s not the Green New Deal or nothing at all.

Richard W. Jones is a member of the State College Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.