The Green New Deal and Project Drawdown
by John M Repp
One week after the 2018 mid-term elections, a grassroots climate action group called Sunrise Movement organized a sit-in in prospective Speaker-of-the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. They were joined by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The group wanted Pelosi to form a Select Committee for a Green New Deal in the 116th Congress, a committee that would have subpoena power and could write legislation that the Sunrise Movement expected would be passed in two years i.e. after the 2020 election.
A month earlier, on October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Centigrade” which warned that the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost half by 2030 if we are to avoid irreversible runaway global warming. Millions of people would die from heat waves, drought, stronger storms and wild fires. It would trigger massive migrations and more wars.
The Green New Deal idea was first introduced by Jill Stein of the Green Party in her 2016 presidential campaign. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on the issue. She beat a 20-year Democratic incumbent who out spent her 10 times. Pelosi did not create the Select Committee so Ocasio-Cortez teamed up with Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to issue on Feb 7, 2019 House Resolution 109 “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”. The goals of the Resolution are to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in ten years, to create millions of high-wage jobs and economic security for all, to invest in U.S. infrastructure and industry, to secure clean air, water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food and access to nature, and to promote justice and equality.
The Green New Deal idea has sparked massive amounts of media commentary, especially from hysterical right-wing sources, who have said it would ban hamburgers, end air travel, outlaw cars and institute socialism. They want to scare their viewers and listeners. The words “New Deal” come from the name given to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s many programs to mitigate the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
In 2017, Paul Hawken edited and published a book entitled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin Books, New York, 2017). Project Drawdown starts from the idea that we cannot just stop burning fossil fuels, although that is absolutely necessary, but we must also drawdown some of the greenhouse gases we have already put up into the atmosphere. The project identified 100 ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans. Of the top 20 ways, only five have to do with how we generate electricity. Eight have to do with food such as reducing food waste, eating a more plant-rich diet, and changing how we farm. We need to move away from tilling and using large amounts of agrochemicals. Three have to do with land use. Two of the ways have to do with educating women and girls in the less developed parts of the world. One has to do with changing the materials we use in air conditioning and refrigeration. Of the 100 ways, Hawken and his team of scientists are calling 20 “coming attractions” and are yet to be fully developed. There is a good 17 minute TED Talk about the project which I highly recommend. It cuts through so much of the discourse about climate change which leaves a person felling hopeless.
A key concern is how we will pay for such a large project on the scale needed to be effective. Ocasio-Cortez says we should pay for it like we would pay for any other Federal program. Congress just needs to allocate the money. At the end of the TED talk about the project, the speaker tells us that Project Drawdown will be expensive but will make a return on investment of one and a half. And if we believe 98% of the world’s climate scientists, we really have no choice. The alterative will be more expensive.