Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Combating the Climate Change Catastrophe, part 2 - Perspectives on a Green New Deal.

From NPR: Global Warming Could Melt At Least A Third Of Himalayan Glaciers. So our supply of fresh water is imperiled. Insects responsible for our food supply face an “insectageddon.” The Ocean Heat Waves Are Threatening Marine Life. Weather phenomena, notably recent storms, have become more severe. Climate change will not wait for usual political processes. It is here. It is now. It will impact every person on this planet. It demands action. But what kind and at what cost?

The bottom lines

John Cassidy’s bottom line is: “Rapidly advancing technology and the falling costs of clean energy make the Green New Deal’s goal of transforming the U.S. economy to zero emissions by mid-century eminently achievable.”

The Washington Post’s bottom line is: "Good intentions will not solve the global warming crisis. Massive social reform will not protect the climate. Marshaling every dollar to its highest benefit is the strongest plan. Our Green New Deal would do that."

What is the Green New Deal?

Let’s start with the NPR report on the Green New Deal (GND] proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey. Here’s a quick summary.

In very broad strokes, the Green New Deal legislation laid out by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey sets goals for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture. In the process, it aims to create jobs and boost the economy.

In that vein, the proposal stresses that it aims to meet its ambitious goals while paying special attention to groups like the poor, disabled and minority communities that might be disproportionately affected by massive economic transitions like those the Green New Deal calls for.

The bill calls for a “10-year national mobilizations” toward accomplishing a series of goals that the resolution lays out.

Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely, Ocasio-Cortez’s office told NPR, as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.

In addition, the framework, as described in the legislation as well as a blog post — containing an updated version of “FAQs” provided to NPR by Ocasio-Cortez’s office — calls for a variety of other lofty goals:

  • “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;
  • working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible” (while supporting family farms and promoting “universal access to healthy food”);
  • “Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;
  • A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;
  • “High-quality health care” for all Americans.

Which is to say: the Green New Deal framework combines big climate-change-related ideas with a wish list of progressive economic proposals that, taken together, would touch nearly every American and overhaul the economy.

And some of the Green New Deal’s goals are indeed aggressive. For example, Ocasio-Cortez told NPR that “in 10 years, we’re trying to go carbon-neutral.”

NPR asks “Are those ideas doable?” Many scientists believe that aggressive action is called for. Others think “that may be an unreachable goal.”

Here’s The Green New Deal, explained by David Roberts at An insurgent movement is pushing Democrats to back an ambitious climate change solution. He covers a lot of ground including the history of other GND’s. Here, in these snippets he describes three essential principles of the most recent GND.

The three core principles of the GND: decarbonization, jobs, and justice

I asked the same question of everyone I talked to: What are your bottom lines? What must be in a policy platform for it to earn the name GND? Answers varied considerably in their details and emphasis, but they clustered around three basic principles.

1) The plan must decarbonize the economy.

The young people who will have to live with the effects of climate change want a plan that begins with what is necessary rather than what is deemed politically possible. “We want the policy to match the findings in the IPCC report — to match the scale of the problem,” says Waleed Shahid of Justice Democrats. Or as Gunn-Wright puts it, “We need to go all the way.”

That means decarbonizing the US economy: getting the electricity sector to zero carbon as soon as possible and other sectors shortly thereafter. That is a gargantuan undertaking that will touch every American life.

Ocasio-Cortez’s platform calls for 100 percent renewable electricity within 10 years, but very few policy experts believe that is possible. Carlock, along with most other wonks in the field, thinks it’s preferable to shoot for 100 percent “clean and renewable energy,” to make room for non-renewable carbon-free options like existing nuclear plants or any new developments in nuclear, biomass, or carbon capture and sequestration. And they also think it’s best to push the target out a bit. (Carlock has it at 2035.)

Other energy applications will be even more challenging than electricity. Decarbonizing transportation will involve radically accelerating the spread of electric vehicles, possibly by banning gasoline and diesel vehicle sales by 2030, and figuring out what to do with aviation and heavy transport.

Buildings produce about 40 percent of annual US carbon emissions. Decarbonizing buildings will involve implementing zero-carbon standards for all new buildings and funding the wholesale retrofitting of existing buildings, millions of which use fossil fuels like natural gas for heating and cooling.

Then there’s heavy industry, where decarbonization remains something of a mystery, the work barely begun.

And on and on. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan actually calls for decarbonizing not just electricity but the entire US economy in 10 years, which is almost certainly impossible absent radical reductions in Americans’ energy consumption, something like imposed austerity — and nobody thinks Americans are that scared of climate change. Even decarbonizing the economy by 2050, as Carlock’s report calls for, is an extraordinarily daunting challenge, involving hundreds of discrete policy problems, each facing their own dilemmas and entrenched interests.

2) The plan must include a federal jobs guarantee and large-scale public investments.

Again, the GND is not just climate policy. It’s about transforming the economy, lifting the up the poor and middle class, and creating a more muscular, active public sector.

Politically, this is the key to the GND. It’s a program that can involve everyone and help everyone — and, theoretically, gain support from everyone, even those in red states who do not care about climate change. The investments and the job guarantee take the GND out of the realm of environmental policy and move it into the realm of transformational economic policy.

3) The plan must include a just transition.

Several people I talked to stressed that they want to avoid the mistakes of the original New Deal, many elements of which entrenched or exacerbated racial inequalities. Everyone wants to make sure that the plan includes protections for those hardest hit by historical discrimination and those set to suffer most from the effects of climate change — in Ocasio-Cortez’s document, “low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, [and] the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution, and other environmental harm.”

The top three challenges facing the GND: paying for it, convincing the public, and winning over Democrats

Here I want to focus on the first principle, decarbonization. How much can we do and how quickly? These questions are taken up by the New Yorker columnist John Cassidy and the Washington Post’s Editorial Board.

Cassidy reports on The Good News About a Green New Deal.

Last month’s rollout of the Green New Deal, a fourteen-page legislative resolution, sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, that called for “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” through a ten-year “national mobilization,” has sparked a good deal of controversy. The resolution was larded with goals not directly tied to the environment, such as guaranteeing everyone a job, affordable housing, and high-quality health care, and even some energy researchers who are enthusiastic proponents of transitioning rapidly to a zero-emissions economy questioned the timetable of a single decade for converting power production entirely to renewable sources.

… according to all the researchers I spoke with, rapidly advancing technology and the falling costs of clean energy make this more achievable than ever.

"Right now, we have about ninety per cent or ninety-five per cent of the technology we need,” Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, told me. In a series of papers, Jacobson and his colleagues have laid out “roadmaps” to a zero-emissions economy for fifty states, fifty-three towns and cities, and a hundred and thirty-eight other countries, with a completion date of 2050. Just as in the Democrats’ Green New Deal, the central element of these roadmaps (and others) is converting the electric grid to clean energy by shutting down power stations that rely on fossil fuels and making some very large investments in wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal facilities. Jacobson said this could be completed by 2035, which is only five years beyond the target set out in the Green New Deal. At the same time, policymakers would introduce a range of measures to promote energy efficiency, and electrify other sectors of the economy that now rely heavily on burning carbon, such as road and rail transport, home heating, and industrial heating. “We don’t need a technological miracle to solve this problem,” Jacobson reiterated. “‘The bottom line is we just need to deploy, deploy, deploy.”

Saul Griffith, a materials scientist and inventor who is the chief executive of OtherLab, a San Francisco-based technology incubator that focusses on clean energy, agrees. In recent presentations, Griffith has sketched out an aggressive plan for switching to clean power and electrifying heating and transportation, which he says could be completed within twenty years. “It’s entirely reasonable to do it,” he said. “The United States is lucky because of its natural advantages. It’s a country with low population density, good wind, good solar, and good hydro resources. The only reason not to do it is political inertia and the influence of the existing fossil-fuel industry.”

To illustrate how such a clean-energy economy might work, Jacobson brought up his own home on the Stanford campus, which has solar panels on the roof, two lithium batteries in the garage, and an advanced electric heat pump. “I have no gas or oil bills, no electricity bill, and no gasoline bill for cars, either,” Jacobson said. “And I generate twenty per cent more energy than I need, so I get paid five hundred dollars by the utility.” Jacobson estimated the up-front cost of equipping his house was about sixty thousand dollars. “With the subsidies that the government provides, it is a five-year payback,” he said. “Without the subsidies, it would be a ten-year payback.”

Interestingly, a new analysis of the Democrats’ Green New Deal from the conservative American Action Forum … says it would cost $10.3 trillion to create a low-carbon electricity grid, a net-zero emissions transportation system, and to “upgrade all existing buildings” to higher energy-efficiency standards. Spread out over thirty years, the cost would be about three hundred and forty billion dollars a year, or 1.7 per cent of current G.D.P.

To be sure, that’s a large sum. But it’s less than half of the annual defense budget, and the taxpayer wouldn’t have to supply all of it. In almost all the academic transition plans that are out there, most of the capital would come from private investors and companies. The federal government would certainly make some substantial investments, too. But its main role would be to enforce strict emissions standards, provide tax breaks for investments in renewables and energy efficiency, raise carbon taxes to discourage fossil-fuel consumption and help finance the transition, and provide support for communities that are adversely affected. The great bulk of the energy industry, including most of the new wind and solar farms, would remain privately owned. Like the original New Deal, this would be managed capitalism rather than state socialism.

The Washington Post asks “Want a Green New Deal?” and answers with Here’s a better one. “In the fight against climate change, the government must enlist the whole economy. Start with carbon pricing. Then fill in the gaps.”

WE FAVOR a Green New Deal to save the planet. We believe such a plan can be efficient, effective, focused and achievable.

The Green New Deal proposed by congressional Democrats does not meet that test. Its proponents, led by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are right to call for ambition and bold action. They are right that the entire energy sector must be reshaped.

But the goal is so fundamental that policymakers should focus above all else on quickly and efficiently decarbonizing. They should not muddle this aspiration with other social policy, such as creating a federal jobs guarantee, no matter how desirable that policy might be.

And the goal is so monumental that the country cannot afford to waste dollars in its pursuit. If the market can redirect spending most efficiently, money should not be misallocated on vast new government spending or mandates.

Natural gas’s displacement of carbon-rich, toxic coal as the country’s top electric fuel source would have seemed a preposterous dream just a decade ago. It has come about with no government mandate and while saving consumers money. When the market demands an outcome, things change fast.

But even substantial reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long term will not be enough to head off catastrophic climate change. The transition from coal to natural gas has been beneficial. But society must eliminate its carbon dependency. It cannot burn vast amounts of any fossil fuel for “decades and decades,” as Mr. Farrell hopes, unless there is a revolution in emissions capture technology. Even in the short term, U.S. emissions are rising, despite the restraint that stepped-up natural-gas burning has provided. The government must demand more change, more quickly.

So what does the Post think we, the U. S., should do?

ASK PRACTICALLY any climate scientist whether humanity must cut greenhouse-gas emissions, and you get an emphatic yes. Ask practically any economist how to do that as cheaply as possible, and the answer is equally emphatic: put a price on carbon dioxide emissions with a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program.

A high-enough carbon price would shape millions of choices, small and large, about what to buy, how to invest and how to live that would result in substantial emissions cuts. People would prioritize the easiest changes, minimizing the costs of the energy transition. With a price that steadily rose, market forces would steadily wring carbon dioxide out of the economy — without the government trying to dictate exactly how, wasting money on special-interest boondoggles.

Here’s an example. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found last year that an average carbon price between 2030 and the end of the century of $100, $200 or even $300 per ton of carbon dioxide would result in huge greenhouse-gas emissions cuts, could restrain warming to the lowest safety threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius and would almost certainly prevent the world from breaching the traditional warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius. In contrast, U.S. biofuels policy, a sad example of nanny-state inefficiency, costs $556 to $618 in 2010 dollars to abate one ton of carbon dioxide, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2013. With its array of green subsidies and mandates, the government is overpaying for too few emissions cuts in too few sectors of the economy.

But even carbon pricing would not be quite enough. There are places where the price signal would not come through or be effective. In those circumstances, the government would have to do more.

For example, economists know that companies that invest in research and development do not get rewarded for the full social value of their work. Others benefit from their innovations without paying. Consequently, firms do not invest in research as much as society should want. On clean energy, that would be true even with a price on carbon emissions. The government should fill this research gap. It would take only a small fraction of the revenue a carbon pricing system would produce to fund a much more ambitious clean-energy research agenda. Basic scientific research and applied research programs such as ARPA-E should be scaled up dramatically.

Similarly, a carbon price would encourage homeowners to invest in more efficient appliances or double-paned windows, but renters pay their own electricity bills yet have little say over such decisions. Because of this dynamic, even with a high carbon price, the country would get less investment in energy efficiency than it needs. The government must fill this efficiency gap. Federal standards for appliances and buildings could slash energy waste where price signals failed to do so. Government loan programs could also help low-income people finance money-saving investments.

And then there is the constant complaint about other countries doing their part. The Post answers: “The best way to ensure that other countries commit to attacking climate change is for the United States to show that it is no slouch — and that it will lead the world as others do their part, too.”

John Cassidy’s bottom line is: “Rapidly advancing technology and the falling costs of clean energy make the Green New Deal’s goal of transforming the U.S. economy to zero emissions by mid-century eminently achievable.”

The Post’s bottom line is: "Good intentions will not solve the global warming crisis. Massive social reform will not protect the climate. Marshaling every dollar to its highest benefit is the strongest plan. Our Green New Deal would do that."

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