Dispatches from the Potomac#29 | The “Unrealistic” Green New Deal Not So Easily Dismissed

This is a translation of an article originally written in May 2019 for publication in the July 2019 edition of the Marubeni Group Magazine, M-SPIRIT.

Washington D.C. Office General Manager, Marubeni America Corporation    Yoichi Mineo

In February of this year, a group of young people marched on the San Francisco office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who happens to be the oldest member of the Senate. When the 85-year-old senator from California inquired as to the purpose of their unannounced visit, the group of kids, some of whom looked to be in their early teens, responded with a single request: “Senator, we want you to vote “yes” on the Green New Deal.”

Senator Feinstein responded to the group by attempting to explain that she is currently preparing a counter proposal to the “unrealistic” Green New Deal, but they were not placated. “You were elected by the people,” they fired back, “that means that you should listen to what we say.” When questioned about their age, one girl answered that she was 16, to which another member of the group quickly added, “It’s not about voting rights – we are the ones who will suffer the consequences of these environmental issues.”

The activist group that spurred these kids to action is called the “Sunrise Movement”, which was created by young people of the millennial generation. The Sunrise Movement works to support the Green New Deal, which is what I would like to talk about in this article.

The Notorious Green New Deal & Peripheral Issues

So what is the Green New Deal (GND)? Although the words themselves can be traced back to more than a decade ago, the GND started gaining mainstream recognition when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who ran for the first time in last year’s mid-term elections) and veteran Senator Edward Markey teamed up to propose a congressional resolution of the same name in February of this year. The extremely ambitious proposal has set some lofty goals, one of which is achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years. But that’s not all – in addition to its climate change content, the resolution also calls for a number of social reformations such as guaranteeing high paying jobs, massive investments in environmentally friendly industries and infrastructure, guaranteeing high quality air, water, and food and eliminating all forms of discrimination. What’s more, in an FAQ (designed as a companion for the GND) that was leaked onto the internet (and has since been deleted), the congresswoman also advocated for a ban on nuclear power generation, as well as a “Universal Basic Income” that would even provide for those members of society who have no intention of finding work. Despite the fact that this incredibly ambitious resolution was proposed by a freshman congresswoman, a total of 12 senators and 90 members of congress, including many 2020 democratic presidential candidates, have signed their names in support of the GND.

However, the biggest problem with the GND is the cost associated with its infrastructure investment and social security goals. Although it is difficult, and possibly misleading, to estimate the cost of the GND due to the fact that it contains no specific policies, one conservative think tank, American Action Forum, has calculated its potential cost at $93 trillion over 10 years, whereas Bloomberg estimates that it could be as much as $6.3 trillion per year. If Bloomberg’s estimate is accurate, the GND will cost between 20 and 30% of the current United States’ GDP (in the FAQ that I mentioned earlier, Ocasio-Cortez said, “We invested 40-50% of GDP into our economy during World War 2 and created the greatest middle class the US has seen”). Regardless, it seems unlikely that the GND can be implemented without incurring a hefty cost. Moreover, there are a myriad of other problems and issues with the GND, including the fact that it has already attracted criticism from certain labor unions, and adding to that the difficulty of achieving a consensus among the states with regard to investments in green energy initiatives like wind and solar power generation. Additionally, there is the issue that the considerable influence of large federal investments could potentially cause conflicts among states as some states have already heavily invested in green energy, while others still rely primarily on fossil fuels. All of this is not even to mention the sheer time and cost associated with crafting specific policies.

The Green New Deal & The Second World War

Despite its lack of feasibility, there are a number of plausible factors that could contribute to the substantial support the GND has garnered from many influential democratic senators and congressmen. The first is that the country is in a good place economically. In the first quarter of this year, the United States has shown a 3.2% GDP growth rate and an incredibly low 3.6% unemployment rate. In other words, virtually anyone who wants a job can find work and, compared to previous years, even young people are able to live in relative luxury. Under these conditions, more practical ideas such as job security don’t attract much attention. Actually, in times like these, it is big ideas like those proposed in the GND, which set out to eliminate feelings of dissatisfaction and hopelessness towards issues like economic inequality and the colossal cost of education and healthcare all in one fell swoop, that emerge at the forefront of popularity. The next factor in the rising approval for the GND is the Democratic Party’s plan to take control of the Senate and the Oval Office in 2020. In 2016, then-Candidate Trump manufactured “enemies”, including China and Mexico, who he claimed had stolen the American Dream; he was able to win the support of many by creating the need to “protect” America from such threats. Trump’s scapegoating of fabricated foes like China and Mexico was certainly one of the factors that elevated him from his status as a fringe candidate to the occupant of the highest office in the land.

Now, it is the Democrats who need to create something for people to rally around, and climate change seems to be the perfect storm of substantial, easy to understand, and simple to present visually, making it an ideal “enemy”. An additional boon to climate change as a rallying point has been the fact that President Trump has vehemently denounced anthropogenic climate change as a hoax. Furthermore, as I mentioned at the beginning, the younger generations are successfully drawing attention to the reality that they are the ones affected by environmental degradation. At present, with the millennial generation comprising 30% of the eligible voting population, the correct way to move forward from a political standpoint seems to be to attack those of the older generations who have grown rich on fossil fuels over the years, in favor of accumulating votes from the younger generations.

The GND also states that it aims to secure high paying jobs through massive investments funded by economic stimulus programs intended to respond to climate change. This appears to be an attempt at capturing the votes of labor unions. The Democratic Party, which has historically tried to bring together city-dwellers with a higher education, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and labor unions, had those same labor unions stolen from right under their noses in 2016 by the Trump Campaign; rallying around climate change on its own is unlikely to bring those votes back. This seems to be the goal of the “non-green” elements of the New Green Deal.

The words “World War II” are used twice in the GND, and an additional 4 times in Ocasio-Cortez’s leaked FAQ. On December 8th, 1941, Americans were united against a common enemy: Japan. People come together to fight a common enemy – this was true in 1941, and it is just as true today more than 70 years later, and it is reflected in the difficulty of whipping votes in the ever-diversifying United States, and the zeal of the GND proponents. It is clear as day that the Green New Deal cannot simply be dismissed as “unrealistic”.