Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal: A First Take, Part II

As noted in my previous post, I was impressed by the extent to which Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal acknowledged those important principles of scale, global thinking, pragmatism, and equity. What does it really consist of, however?

The centerpiece of the plan is a shift to renewable power as the basis of the energy and transport systems of the country (and it is on this aspect of the plan that I will focus here). The plan specifically envisions a massive, rapid expansion of electricity production capacity, combined with a "smart grid"; the electrification of homes and businesses currently using oil and gas for such purposes as heating; and transport fleets, the latter with the help of grants for trade-ins for individuals, school districts, transit agencies, and trucking, and the funding of a user-friendly charging infrastructure. (The plan also includes a substantial investment in electrically powered public transit and high-speed rail; the weatherizing of buildings, which will entail the construction and modification of a great deal of housing stock.)

As renewable energy production increasingly meets the country's energy needs, the plan also curbs fossil fuels production and consumption, with the latter sector paying significantly toward the progress of the former. The elimination of Federal fossil fuel subsidies (including the massive military expenditures devoted to protecting oil supplies and transport routes, far vaster than the official subsidies) and divestment from overseas fossil fuel project financing, the penalties for violations of environmental laws that the crippled regulators from the Reagan era forward failed to collect, taxes on polluters, and suits against the oil industry (like those against the tobacco companies) will provide much of the funding for the transition--which will, over time, substantially pay for itself. Far and away the most significant reason is that the Power Marketing Associations will build and operate much of the renewable energy-based power generation capacity, and collect the revenue--making this not some mere subsidy, but an investment by the government in what will become a major publicly owned enterprise. However, there will also be the economic boost from rising income tax revenue (and falling social safety net payouts) due to the colossal stimulus of the plan, which it is intended will create 20 million jobs.

Alongside all this, the environmental destructiveness of the fossil fuel production that will continue as the shift is carried through will be minimized, with the plan explicitly calling for bans on offshore drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal coal-mining, and the import and export of fossil fuels, and on new fossil fuel infrastructure permits on Federal land. It also calls for the repair and clean-up of existing fossil fuel infrastructure, both that in use and that which has been abandoned, to minimize its negative effects. Beyond these objects the plan will also see government enlargement of recycling efforts, not least to minimize the resource consumption required by the construction of renewable energy-production systems.

In considering all this the plan is notable for its comparative technological conservatism--its emphasis on the use of existing, proven technologies. However, it also acknowledges the areas where further research and development will be required, or helpful, specifying programs in the areas of energy storage; the decarbonization of shipping and aviation; and the production of alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics. Notable, too, is the extent to which it addresses other problems related to this transition, and to coping with climate change, including more general redress of an infrastructure which must be made more efficient and resilient, from the supply of potable water to the supply of broadband Internet (here, too, public ownership will be part of the plan), the strengthening of firefighting capabilities, the expansion of Brownfield and Superfund cleanup, and the protection of public lands.

Considering all this I must admit that I was impressed by not just the scale of the program, as previously acknowledged here, but also its comprehensiveness, its audacity, and its rigor, not a single thing so far striking me as obviously infeasible or even implausible from the technical standpoint given what I know of the issue, whether in regard to its aims or the means for realizing them. No plan previously presented by a national figure even begins to compare with it in any of these respects--and whatever I make of the details as they continue to appear, and we all continue to study them, I think I will still think what I do now, that finally we are starting to see some real acknowledgment of just what this job will take.

A 100 Percent Renewable Energy-Based Electric Grid?
A 100 Percent Renewable Energy World?
The Mendacity of the Renewable Energy-Bashers
Don't Believe the Trolls; 100 Percent Renewable Energy is Our Best Bet: Postscript
Reflections on the "Moral Equivalent of War"
Don't Believe the Trolls; 100 Percent Renewable Energy is Our Best Bet
My Notes on a Green New Deal
Societal Complexity, Diminishing Returns and a Green New Deal
The Moral Equivalent of War

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