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Science & Industry Perspectives on the Green New Deal

As I write this, the U.S. Senate is teeing up for a vote later this month on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ ambitious non-binding resolution to work towards a Green New Deal, which would confront climate change and social inequality through a coordinated effort to make alternative energy sources a pillar of our economy. The resolution, which has been in the news for weeks, has already succeeded in bringing national attention to the problem of climate change. Many 2020 presidential hopefuls are expressing their support, while other lawmakers condemn the proposal in increasingly dramatic and hyperbolic ways.

Whether or not this iteration of the Green New Deal becomes legislative policy this year, it will no doubt impact our nation’s priorities for years to come. Former Vice President and climate change activist Al Gore, who has been struggling to convince Americans about the threat posed by a destabilizing climate for a decade, noted that “The Green New Deal resolution marks the beginning of a crucial dialogue on climate legislation in the U.S…. this proposal responds to the growing concern and demand for action.”

We’ve heard a lot from politicians about the Green New Deal. Let’s take a moment to listen to what climate scientists and alternative energy industry insiders, those who have been at the forefront of the effort to make renewable energy an economic priority, are saying.

Raising Public Awareness

“The GND is an aspirational idea,” write environmental politics and affairs experts Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash, “it lacks policy coherence and a legislative roadmap. Yet, it has moved climate conversations from fretting about IPCC reports to topics that people can relate to. Its vocabulary is simple and accessible. Politicians may hate the GND or love it, but they cannot duck it.”

For people who have understood the threat of climate change but struggled to move the needle of public perception, the Green New Deal is cause for celebration. Whether or not they agree with every aspect of its policy, they are relieved that it has finally broken through to a large audience in ways that scientists, filmmakers, and reporters have not.

Asking Hard Questions

For Pacific Standard magazine, Francie Diep interviewed climate scientists about their reactions to the Green New Deal. Their responses raise several hard questions, both about the resolution and our national approach to stemming climate change as a whole. “Should the Green New Deal aim merely to ensure America doesn't emit any more greenhouse gases? Or should it shoot for America's energy to come from all renewable sources?” she asks, noting that “Some environmentalists object to nuclear energy and carbon capture technology, but renewables are less controversial.”

One of the biggest questions the Green New Deal raises is “how much will this cost?” Diep writes that, when it comes to widespread alternative energy sources and energy storage, “The researchers I talked to believe these technology advances are all possible. It's just a question of how much we are willing to pay for this future.” Economists have released varying projections for the total cost of a Green New Deal, but pinning down the numbers is difficult. One underlying theme is that, while the costs of fighting climate change may be quite high, the costs of not addressing the problem are likely to be even higher.

Encouraging State-Level Action

What alternative energy industry members and climate scientists all seem to agree on is that the national discussion of a major energy shift is important, but the state-level initiatives that are currently underway deserve equal attention. Recently, New Mexico announced its own “mini” Green New Deal, which calls for state utilities to be completely carbon-free by 2045, sets a 100% renewable energy goal, and includes money for retraining workers in industries that will be impacted, such as coal. For the third-largest producer of domestic crude oil, this is an enormous step forward into a renewable energy economy.

New Mexico joins California and Hawaii in passing bills that will require 100% of energy to come from renewable sources in the future. Other states that have embarked upon Green New Deal-adjacent projects include New York, Illinois, and Michigan. Whether a national Green New Deal is imminent or not, the progress made at the state level is encouraging, as these states pave the way for larger progress.

For GreenTechMedia, Adam Browning writes that “The Green New Deal is like cilantro, Hawaiian pizza, or peas in guacamole — it’s the kind of thing that, love or hate, everyone has an opinion about… But the fact is, most Americans find many of the goals of the Green New Deal appealing.” From the states to the halls of Congress, those voices are now being heard.

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