Green New Deal supporters can't explain how it will prevent climate change

Earlier today I wrote about Megan McArdle’s contention that the Green New Deal won’t work even if it’s goals were adopted wholesale tomorrow. At best the GND would reduce carbon emissions in the United States that contribute about 15% to total world emissions. In other words, if you bring that 15% down to zero, you still have 85% that we don’t control. And there’s some reason to think that our dropping out of the global market for fossil fuel use might result in cheaper oil and gas which would then be even more appealing to developing countries like India.

After writing about all of that, I came across a video by someone I don’t think I’ve seen before. The channel is called “Barely Informed with Elad” and his Patreon site sketches out a simple mission: “I like reporting on protests and talking to the people there to find out whats wrong. they usually aren’t sure.” So yesterday Elad published the clip below in which he went to a Green New Deal rally and spoke to a number of people about the proposal.

Unlike a lot of the videos I’ve seen with this basic premise, quite a few of the people Elad speaks with know something about the GND and what it is proposing. This isn’t the usual assemblage of 20-something know-nothings. However, Elad’s questions key in on the very point I wrote about earlier. How exactly are we going to get China and India to abandon cheap, reliable fossil fuels when they are still in the midst of industrializing their economies? And on that point, his respondents mostly start tap-dancing.

He asks the first woman he interviews how low U.S. emissions would need to be as a part of global total to convince her the GND maybe won’t work. She replies, “Nothing’s going to change my mind.” At that point, some kind of minder or organizer comes over and breaks up the interview.

But immediately, someone else, wearing a bright yellow cap, steps in and tries to take over. This guy is a lot more aggressive and won’t even allow Elad to ask some of his questions. Eventually we get back to the question about the percentage the U.S. contributes to global emissions. Yellow Cap replied “14 percent.” Asked if the implementation of the GND could stop climate change, Yellow Cap replied, “By itself, no.”

“So how are we going to stop climate change if that was the goal of the Green New Deal?” Elad asked.

“We need to decarbonize our economy and America needs to lead by example and America has historically contributed more to carbon emissions than any other country,” Yellow Cap said. He continued, “That’s why we need to decarbonize our economy and lead by example so those other economies can do it too.”

Asked if we’re prepared to ask India and China to stop using fossil fuels, Yellow Cap called that a “false choice.” “We don’t have to risk the quality of life of their people. We can just give them clean energy and they can have the quality of life they want,” he said.

There are several more interviews which basically proceed along this same pattern. There’s an awareness among the better-informed proponents of the GND that it can’t save the planet from carbon even if fully adopted. But the idea is that, somehow, our example or maybe our giving away green tech is going to make it simple and desirable for everyone to follow our lead.

As I said earlier, maybe there is a green solution waiting to be discovered which will be obviously better and cheaper than oil and gas. Maybe that’s some more efficient type of solar or fusion energy. But those alternatives have disadvantages (solar doesn’t work at night obviously but it also doesn’t work equally well everywhere in the world as it does in the southwestern U.S.)

So when I hear someone say “we can just give them clean energy,” meaning the entire rest of the world, that doesn’t sound like a plan to me so much as a fond hope. There’s a certain amount of magical thinking going on here. If we dive head-first into this GND, it’s all going to work out great for everyone. And because it’s all going to work out great, we don’t really need to get into the details of how it’s going to work out. And, I’m speculating a bit, but I think behind that is the idea that maybe we’d already have solved all these problems if it wasn’t for the corrupting influence of big oil…or something. You can hear some of that coming from Yellow Cap in his answers.

Even if we did develop some amazing new green tech, would we just give it away? And if so, what incentive is there for developing countries to put much effort into this? Wouldn’t they be better off just waitng to see what we give them for free?

The Green New Deal isn’t a plan so much as a vague attempt at redemption for our carbon sins. I’m not convinced that’s something that’s guaranteed to change the world. It could. Maybe. It could also fail spectacularly and leave the planet in no better shape and the U.S. in much worse shape. Here’s the video: