The Green New Deal is exciting progressive Democrats, but that name is a misnomer. “World War G” would be more accurate because the plan commits the United States to an endless, unwinnable global quagmire.
War is clearly the GND’s background metaphor. The resolution introduced last week states that combating climate change requires “a new national, social, industrial and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II.” It goes on to state that achieving Green New Deal goals “should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization,” which the document helpfully calls “the Green New Deal mobilization.” The 11-page proposal invokes that phrase five more times in case you didn’t get the message up front.
There will be no exemptions from the GND’s draft. Since the goal is to reduce global “greenhouse gas emissions from human sources” by “40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030,” pretty much everyone and everything will need to be mobilized in the “Federal Government-led” effort. The list of what would need to be regulated or taxed is limitless, essentially impacting anyone who drives a vehicle, heats their home or eats food.
The very nature of the goal makes this war more endless than our intervention in Afghanistan. Human life has emitted greenhouse gases since the first homo sapiens discovered fire. Regulating these emissions so that the global temperature will never rise above a certain level cannot end at a certain date. This is not a war where we beat the enemy and then bring the troops home — it is a constant, never-ending struggle against humanity’s basic impulse to raise itself from poverty.
That struggle makes the war unwinnable. The University of East Anglia’s Global Carbon Project tracks greenhouse gas emissions and shows that global emissions have risen dramatically since 2001. All of that growth has come from China, India and other developing countries outside of the United States and the European Union that have become richer as they industrialized. Meanwhile, global poverty levels have plummeted. The United States and the E.U. could eliminate all of their emissions by 2030 — an impossible task — and the world would still not meet the GND’s targets.
This inconvenient truth is what turns the GND into World War G. If we really have, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has said, only 12 years to save the planet, simply encouraging the rest of the world to go along isn’t enough. The United States and the E.U. would have to force global compliance with green tariffs that would halt the rest of the world’s progress in its tracks. You think President Trump’s trade war with China is a big deal? This would make those efforts look like a grain of sand on a vast beach.
Slogans are one thing, but getting people to agree to submit themselves to the yoke of the green bureaucracy would be quite another. Pollster David Winston found last year that while more than 75 percent of Democratic-leaning voters say fighting climate change is “very important,” fewer than a quarter of all other voters agree. That’s probably why voters in solid-blue Washington state rejected ballot initiatives that would have created modest carbon taxes by landslide margins in 2016 and 2018. Imagine what voters would do if they had a direct say on whether to declare World War G.
It’s telling that one word never appears in the Green New Deal resolution: freedom. That’s not an oversight. War always restricts freedom, as the needs of the whole swamp the needs of the few or the one. Endless war means an endless restriction to what makes us unique and great — the promise of universal human freedom and dignity.
We can address climate change without sacrificing our freedom. President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, effectively making NASA funding a national priority. Trump could declare a similar federally funded research commitment to discover carbon-free technologies — the only way to engineer a global, politically sustainable solution. NESA (the National Environmental Security Agency) would probably be much more popular, and much more effective, at ultimately reducing global temperatures than the failed raft of policies pushed by green armchair generals for the past quarter century.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) shrewd decision to call a vote on the Senate version of the GND will lead to its overwhelming rejection. Americans do not want endless war, whether it is fought halfway across the world or in their garages and their homes. Serious efforts to address climate change need to reject militarizing the country and devise new solutions that build upon our national character rather than squander it.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.