Student activists with the Sunrise Movement occupy Nancy Pelosi’s office in November 2018, when she was House Minority Leader, to demand that she and the Democrats act on climate change. Shutterstock
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about the (new) Green New Deal. It’s an ambitious plan to make America carbon-neutral — as well as more equitable — in a mere 10 years.
Although the Green New Deal resolution that will be voted on in the U.S. Senate is likely to be “soundly defeated,” the broader debate that it has sparked — how best to respond to climate change — is not going to disappear any time soon.
The main champion of the proposal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is clearly more than capable of responding to her critics. But experts also need to weigh in, particularly because each of the key elements of the framework — including the core contention that governments must be the primary driver of the transition to a green economy — is backed up by an extensive body of academic research.
Some critics say the Green New Deal is too costly, and others have effectively responded to that argument. But what about the other common critiques?
It rejects mainstream economics
The mainstream economic solution to climate change is to put a price on carbon, for example through a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. This idea has dominated climate policy discussions at the domestic and international level for years.
The editors of The Economist lament that the Green New Deal doesn’t emphasize carbon pricing. In their view, climate change is an example of market failure with an uncomplicated solution. To solve the problem, they say “governments need only include the social cost of carbon in the prices people pay.”
Turns out, the solution isn’t as straightforward as they would have us believe. For one, the carbon price has to be incredibly high and cover a broad swath of the economy to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governments haven’t shown a willingness to do this and recent research suggests that even steep prices will not produce the deep emissions reductions required to limit global warming to under 2C.
This is not to say that a price on carbon has no role to play in a Green New Deal — and the Ocasio-Cortez proposal doesn’t rule it out. The point is that carbon pricing isn’t the only game in town and we shouldn’t be shackled to it as our sole response just because orthodox economists prefer its “elegance.”
It lacks focus
The Ocasio-Cortez resolution lists a number of objectives in addition to carbon neutrality such as universal health care and stronger rights for workers.
Some view this “green intersectionality” as damaging to the fight against climate change. They argue that these other policy goals are irrelevant, costly and will weaken support for the plan. Others suggest, to the contrary, that it is politically savvy to link issues that voters clearly care about to the fight against climate change.
Author and activist Naomi Klein has eloquently argued why both sides miss the point. The prevailing view places issues into silos, and fails to grasp that the crises of inequality and environmental devastation are “inextricably linked — and can only be overcome with a holistic vision for social and economic transformation.”
Again, research has long identified these links. Take for example, the much discussed job guarantee that provides a social safety net in the form of publicly funded “green jobs,” such as insulating homes or environmental rehabilitation. This idea comes from the work of economists like Pavlina Tcherneva, and it fits with the broader notion of a “just transition” — the idea that the people who lose their jobs in the fossil fuel sector as a result of the transition to a green economy should not be left behind.
It isn’t green enough
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in 1933 to tackle the Great Depression, it didn’t matter very much what the government invested in, as long as jobs were created. Theoretically, the government could pay people to dig holes and fill them in again. In practice, it aimed for public benefits from its investments, including reforestation and the expansion of the national parks system through the Civilian Conservation Corps.
It is much trickier to ensure that investments under the Green New Deal actually meet the goals of economic equality and environmental sustainability. There is a long history of “green” programs failing to live up to expectations. In fact, even the Civilian Conservation Corps was derided by many ecologists at the time for building roads in natural areas and planting tree monocultures, instead of a mixture of species, which provided less habitat for wildlife and left the new forests more susceptible to pests.
The battle lines are currently being drawn over whether the Green New Deal should include investments in nuclear power and allow fossil fuel combustion coupled with carbon capture and storage technology.
There are also more subtle issues to be aware of. It’s fairly easy to greenwash large infrastructure projects, for example. A “green” electricity project funded by Canada’s 2009 stimulus package was designed solely to provide cheap energy to mining companies, giving them access to a remote and previously pristine natural area. In addition, the vast majority of funds from Korea’s 2009 Green New Deal went to a major dam project vigorously opposed by environmentalists.
Concerns about the greenness of the Green New Deal can’t yet be dismissed: the devil will be in the details, and there is much work to be done in this regard. But in the meantime, the broader shift in the framing of the climate change debate that the proposal has initiated should be recognized, and welcomed.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation
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With carbon farming, agriculture ceases to be part of the climate problem and becomes a critical part of the solution
Agriculture is rightly blamed as a major culprit of our climate crisis. But in this groundbreaking new book, Eric Toensmeier argues that agriculture―specifically, the subset of practices known as “carbon farming”―can, and should be, a linchpin of a global climate solutions platform.
Carbon farming is a suite of agricultural practices and crops that sequester carbon in the soil and in above-ground biomass. Combined with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions―and in concert with adaptation strategies to our changing environment― carbon farming has the potential to bring us back from the brink of disaster and return our atmosphere to the “magic number” of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Toensmeier’s book is the first to bring together these powerful strategies in one place, including in-depth analysis of the available research and, where research is lacking, a discussion of what it will take to get us there.
Carbon farming can take many forms. The simplest practices involve modifications to annual crop production. Although many of these modifications have relatively low sequestration potential, they are widely applicable and easily adopted, and thus have excellent potential to mitigate climate change if practiced on a global scale. Likewise, grazing systems such as silvopasture are easily replicable, don’t require significant changes to human diet, and―given the amount of agricultural land worldwide that is devoted to pasture―can be important strategies in the carbon farming arsenal. But by far, agroforestry practices and perennial crops present the best opportunities for sequestration. While many of these systems are challenging to establish and manage, and would require us to change our diets to new and largely unfamiliar perennial crops, they also offer huge potential that has been almost entirely ignored by climate crusaders.
Many of these carbon farming practices are already implemented globally on a scale of millions of hectares. These are not minor or marginal efforts, but win-win solutions that provide food, fodder, and feedstocks while fostering community self-reliance, creating jobs, protecting biodiversity, and repairing degraded land―all while sequestering carbon, reducing emissions, and ultimately contributing to a climate that will remain amenable to human civilization. Just as importantly to a livable future, these crops and practices can contribute to broader social goals such as women’s empowerment, food sovereignty, and climate justice.
The Carbon Farming Solution does not present a prescription for how cropland should be used and is not, first and foremost, a how-to manual, although following up on references in a given section will frequently provide such information. Instead, The Carbon Farming Solution is―at its root―a toolkit. It is the most complete collection of climate-friendly crops and practices currently available. With this toolkit, farmers, communities, and governments large and small, can successfully launch carbon farming projects with the most appropriate crops and practices to their climate, locale, and socioeconomic needs.
Toensmeier’s ultimate goal is to place carbon farming firmly in the center of the climate solutions platform, alongside clean solar and wind energy. With The Carbon Farming Solution, Toensmeier wants to change the discussion, impact policy decisions, and steer mitigation funds to the research, projects, and people around the world who envision a future where agriculture becomes the protagonist in this fraught, urgent, and unprecedented drama of our time. Citizens, farmers, and funders will be inspired to use the tools presented in this important new book to transform degraded lands around the world into productive carbon-storing landscapes.