One of the most pertinent issues to young voters is climate change, with more than 80 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 viewing climate change as a “major threat to human life on earth.” As students of the Claremont Colleges, we will all deal with the effects of climate change at some point in our lives, making it our responsibility to push for tangible solutions to the impending climate crisis.
One proposed solution is the Green New Deal, a Congressional resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution, but it sets out broad goals for dealing with climate change and puts forward ideas like a guarantee for high-paying clean energy jobs and emissions reduction targets for U.S. energy over the next 10 years.
Although the Green New Deal may seem to be the most ambitious environmental policy proposal in America, it fails to operate as a sufficient solution for the climate change crisis. Taking decisive action now is imperative, as global warming is already poised to kill more than 250,000 people per year and plunge 100 million people into poverty by 2030.
According to a 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even with ambitious reductions in climate emissions before 2030, the worst impacts of climate change can only be avoided with some level of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Until the Industrial Revolution, humans lived and evolved with a global carbon dioxide level of approximately 280 parts per million, and scientists agree that the upper bound that remains safe for human life is around 350 parts per million. We surpassed that threshold in 1988, and global carbon dioxide levels as of October 2020 were at 413 parts per million.
Unfortunately, while the Green New Deal offers vague support for carbon removal, it does not include a specific goal for how much carbon dioxide must be removed, which is crucial to lowering carbon dioxide levels enough to restore a healthy climate. Without widespread financing for and the adoption of carbon removal technology, climate devastation remains an inevitability.
Moreover, the Green New Deal does not require a halt to the production of fossil fuels, as it merely requires that U.S. energy must be entirely net zero emissions. This proposal allows oil and gas companies to continue producing fossil fuels as long as they also employ carbon offsets or invest in geoengineering schemes that purportedly lower net emissions to zero.
It is critical to end fossil fuel production as quickly as possible. In fact, the emissions just from oil, gas and coal reserves that have already been tapped are enough to cause a global temperature increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the IPCC report, an increase in temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius will lead to significantly worse climate impacts than previously predicted, such as more destructive natural disasters, more flood devastation and more wildfires.
The Green New Deal also neglects to transform the financial sector, leaving us to hope that of their own volition, banks will stop financing natural gas pipelines through Indigenous land and start investing in solar and wind power. Without reforming the profit structure of the financial sector, the Green New Deal will have a hard time affecting large-scale change as Wall Street continues to back deforestation and other environmentally destructive projects.
Furthermore, any discussion of climate change has to acknowledge the international scale of the issue, and unfortunately, the Green New Deal is incredibly limited in its efforts abroad. Although the United States is responsible for a hefty 15 percent of global greenhouse emissions and massive cuts to those emissions are necessary, the Green New Deal still leaves 85 percent of the world’s emissions unaffected.
The United States has a responsibility to provide aid in transitioning to renewable energy sources worldwide, especially since the United States is responsible for more than 26 percent of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions, although we are only home to 4 percent of the world’s population. In producing those emissions, the United States and other wealthy nations have already spent most of the world’s carbon budget, which is the amount of carbon we can emit while remaining under 2 degrees Celsius of warming. The United States had already spent its allowance for the carbon budget for remaining under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 1944.
Other nations must also make drastic emissions cuts if they can afford them; the problem is the nations that can’t. In the absence of subsidies, developing nations like Thailand, Malaysia and Nigeria (along with many, many others) are forced to use the energy sources that best allow them to participate in the global economy, which in most cases are carbon-based.
Consequently, the United States should subsidize the transitions of other nations away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. As developing nations around the world undergo their own processes of industrialization, it is essential that they have the funding capability to do so with renewable energy, rather than becoming locked-in to fossil fuel use.
Outside of subsidizing clean energy, the United States should also help nations construct adaptation measures to lessen the impacts of climate change. Such measures include raising flood barriers, updating buildings to withstand more extreme weather conditions and changing agricultural and forestry practices to work in a rapidly shifting climate. Building adaptive infrastructure can help nations like Bangladesh, for example, where 15 million people are expected to face climate displacement by 2050.
This is not to say we shouldn’t pass the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a good policy — a great one even. But it isn’t enough to save us, and we can’t expect it to be a panacea to our impending climate crisis. To deal with climate change, we must reimagine climate regulation and energy production as a whole, as well as embrace a far more internationally cooperative mindset.
Sam Hernandez PO ’24 is from San Antonio, Texas. He would greatly prefer not dying due to climate change in the next few decades.