Green New Deal vs Climate Pragmatism -- My take at Scientific American

Matthew Nisbet's picture

The details of a proposed Green New Deal, announced this week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, are sure to elevate the political agenda status of climate change and be celebrated by many political progressives.
But as I argue in a commentary at Scientific American, we should be wary about what the Green New Deal will do to the already contentious debate over climate change, since it poses deeply challenging consequences for how we think and talk about the problem moving forward, turning policy action into a litmus test for political leaders.
The Ocasio-Markey plan pairs the goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity and transportation sectors with longstanding progressive causes that include creating a government job program, increasing unionization, providing universal health insurance, reducing income inequality, and combating gender and racial discrimination.
With this new re-framing, actions to address climate change not only mean fully transitioning away from a fossil-fuel dependent society in a matter of decades, already a tough sell for conservatives and many centrists, but this historically unprecedented transition is now only achievable by transforming the U.S. into a social democracy.

If the U.S. is going to achieve a carbon-free economy by 2050, in contrast to the Green New Deal as currently defined, a pivot towards policy pragmatism will be needed that at first will likely be more incremental, than transformative.
At Scientific American, I propose three broad principles that should guide the pivot to policy pragmatism during an era of enduring divided government and hyper-partisanship.

  • FIRST, to survive inevitable swings in party control, any climate and energy policy must be able to unify support from progressives and centrists and also win backing from at least some conservatives.
  • SECOND, given the sizable lobbying advantage of the fossil fuel industry and its allies, successful legislation will not only need the backing of Republicans but also support from at least a few major industry members.
  • THIRD, to have a chance of rapidly decarbonizing the U.S. economy and winning political support, future legislation must also target innovation, cost reduction and deployment across a broad range of low-carbon technologies, not just wind, solar and batteries. 

Successfully applying these principles, which enable Democrats and Republicans to support action for different reasons, is not a pipe dream. They were proven to work during the first two years of the Trump presidency.
Read more at Scientific
As always I welcome your thoughts, critiques and disagreements.


About the Author: 

Matthew Nisbet is Professor of Communication, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Communication, and a regular columnist at Issues in Science and Technology magazine.