Forget the small decline in greenhouse emissions we’re seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic; the climate emergency remains as dire as ever. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans are suddenly out of work. Many in the environmental movement are putting those two facts together and calling for trillions of federal dollars to be spent on a massive new workforce that will build up renewable energy capacity and green infrastructure.
A recent survey of more than two hundred central-bank and treasury officials in the G20 group of affluent countries concluded, “Recovery packages that seek synergies between climate and economic goals have better prospects for increasing national wealth, enhancing productive human, social, physical, intangible, and natural capital.”
Meanwhile, the Green New Deal—the vision embodied in a 2019 joint congressional resolution and now being written up in detail—included a “green jobs” push long before the pandemic hit. It also calls for social, economic, racial, gender, and workplace justice—all of which are needed, especially now that the economy’s imploding.
The “New Deal” part of the Green New Deal, therefore, may turn out to be pretty straightforward. Where things break down is in the “Green” part. It lacks any direct mechanism to eliminate fossil fuels from the economy on a crash deadline. And there is nothing in it that would end our long-running assault on the Earth’s ecosystems in pursuit of profit and wealth accumulation.
The national climate discussion appears to be based on an implicit assumption that as new energy capacity comes online in the coming decade or two, it will push an equal quantity of fossil-energy capacity off-line, joule for joule. History and research argue against that assumption, showing that with economic growth, new energy sources mostly add to the total energy supply rather than replace existing sources.