Green New Deal: An Emergency is No Time to Panic

February 24, 2019


A lot of rhetoric around the “Time to Panic” message.
I think the idea is to make the point we are in an emergency.

I was a paramedic for 15 years, so have been around a few emergencies.
I can tell you that panic is not the optimal approach.
Seriousness and quick, effective action is what is required. Applying solutions that are evidence based and shown to work, backed by training, is the most effective strategy.

That said, a lot of talk about how Green New Deal is “too aggressive” misses the point.
We do need to act, and we need to act now.


To put it bluntly: this is not normal. We are not in an era of normal politics. There is no precedent for the climate crisis, its dangers or its opportunities. Above all, it calls for courage and fresh thinking.

Rather than jumping into individual responses, I want to take a step back and try to situate the Green New Deal in our current historical context, at least as I see it. Then it will be clearer why I think so many critics have missed the mark.

The earth’s climate has already warmed 1 degree Celsius from preindustrial levels, unleashing a cascade of super-charged heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, storms, water shortages, migrations, and conflicts. Climate change is not a threat; it’s here. The climate has changed.

And it is changing more rapidly than at any time in millions of years. The human race is leaving behind the climatic conditions in which all of advanced civilization developed, going back to the beginning of agriculture. We have no certainty about what will happen next, mainly because we have no certainty about what we will do, but we know the changes are bad and going to get much worse, even with concerted global action.

Without concerted global action — and with a few bad breaks on climate sensitivity, population, and fossil fuel projections — the worst-case scenarios include civilization-threatening consequences that will be utterly disastrous for most of the planet’s species.

At the moment, nobody is doing a better job of describing the tragic unfolding reality of climate change than author David Wallace-Wells, especially in his new book The Uninhabitable Earth, but also in this New York Times piece. Here’s just a paragraph of coming attractions:

All of that is expected when the global average temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius.

Jeffrey Sachs in CNN:

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 Green New Deal combines ideas across several parts of the economy because the ultimate goal is sustainable development. That means an economy that delivers a package deal: good incomes, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. Around the world, governments are aiming for the same end — a “triple-bottom line” of economic, social, and environmental objectives.

In the US, the economy is feeding the wealth of billionaires while leaving tens of millions of households with no financial cushion at all. Meanwhile, the fossil-fuel lobby continues to endanger the planet by promoting the use of fuels that contribute to climate change, raising the risk of mega-floods, droughts, hurricanes, and heat waves, claiming many lives and costing the US more than $450 billion during 2016-18, or more than $150 billion per year on average.

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.

Consider the challenge of decarbonizing the energy system. As noted in the Green New Deal resolution, the recent report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change calls for global decarbonization by 2050, an achievable goal that requires coherent and accelerated actions by the US and other nations.

The Green New Deal is the occasion to put America’s utilities, builders, and automakers to the challenge of accelerating their technological overhauls to complete decarbonization by 2050 or earlier. The resolution calls for a 10-year mobilization effort to achieve “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” but not for a precise timeline for completing decarbonization. The timing will depend on the pace of new zero-carbon investments and the phase-out of existing fossil fuel-based technologies.

Decarbonization will include the following measures. Electricity generation will shift from coal and natural gas to wind, solar, hydro, and other zero-carbon technologies. Cars and trucks will shift from gasoline to electricity, using batteries or fuel cells (with hydrogen manufactured by electrolysis). Planes will use electricity for short flights and advanced zero-carbon fuels for longer flights. Buildings will be heated by electricity (such as heat pumps) rather than boilers and furnaces.

The costs of renewable energy are plummeting, making decarbonization eminently feasible. Detailed estimates put the costs of substantial decarbonization (80% or more by 2050) at around 1% of GDP per year or less. (See here for one recent study). In many cases, renewable energy is already at “grid parity,” meaning that it is at a cost point comparable to fossil fuels. Most of the modest costs of decarbonization will never hit the federal budget, as they will be absorbed by the utility industry, the automobile producers, and other parts of the private economy.

Decarbonization is already underway in the US, just not yet with the pace and scale required. US utilities are no longer building coal-fired power plants; many are now scrapping plans for gas-fired plants in favor of renewable energy. Investors and in-house lawyers are warning companies not to invest in fossil fuels, as these investments would be stranded in future years. Automobile companies are rapidly shifting to electric vehicles. New buildings are going electric, with tough efficiency codes. These transformations are being driven mainly by environmental regulations, integrated resource planning by utilities, and market forces, not by federal outlays.


5 Responses to “Green New Deal: An Emergency is No Time to Panic”

  1. Ron Benenati Says:

    Semantics can be an exhausting game. There are always different ways to interpret things. I think too often we spend more time playing with alternative meanings that in pursuing solutions.
    Personally, I interpret much of the “Time to Panic” rhetoric as meaning we’ve had decades to act and have not only failed, but my any standard, or leaders are still showing little motivation. That is something to get worried about. That is something for people engaged since the 1980s and grasping at the prospects going forward need not feel guilt in experiencing.
    It is something for youth, coming into the awareness of what their future will for them to deal with, and the apathy in the adults around them…have earned their sense of urgency.
    And considering the efforts made to move forward to date….the dismal failure of efforts to education and move forward….is something that seems to finally be stirring the beehive.
    I have worked in disaster response, and yes, planning, expertise; focused, productive, organized action is essential.. But how many times do we need to be lulled into a new state of normalcy and pretend it will all work out before it doesnt?
    I am so grateful for the advocates of the green new deal and I suspect they understand to need for coherent action..and the need to finally energize the demand for it,

  2. jimbills Says:

    The David Roberts article in Vox is worth the full read. It’s a better take on the Green New Deal than anything else I’ve seen published. Bill McKibben also has a decent response here:

    I don’t think your panic EMT scenario applies to climate change. First off, the imperative of action isn’t going to hit someone all of a sudden like a car crash. Secondly, it requires concerted action by millions instead of just a few. Thirdly, that action will require decades of continued response – in other words, the patient isn’t going to bleed out in minutes, it’s going to take years and years of hard work. People can’t sustain panic for that long no matter how scary it is. Eventually, they get their head straight about what to do.

    We don’t face too much fear in the public in regards to climate change, but a lack of fear – ranging from dismissal, to faith that technology and the market will magically solve it, to outright denial.

    Fear is the only thing that will actually motivate people into accepting the urgent need for response. We keep saying we only have ten years to really tackle this, after all. Or is that just b-s?

    The Green New Deal, of course, will not pass the Congress as it currently stands, and even though it is just a series of suggestions rather than actual policy. But where it is important is in forcing to people to – finally – talk about action towards climate change in at least a real way. It forces people to really consider what that will entail, and the more people talk about it, the better. It also forces the pragmatic moderates to get off their behinds and see that at least something needs to be done. Dianne Feinstein says she has a climate change plan in the works. Well, finally. It only took her thirty years. I wonder what motivated her? Some Republicans are also finally acknowledging that something must be done.

    However, while the country cannot make effective change without the lackadaisical center and the dismissive right, any compromises will never be enough. That’s why we need more Green New Deal proposals, and more talk about it, and more support for the young – instead of less.

  3. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27 and commented:
    We can do this. We just need the political will.

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