In Essays, Innovation

If the old adage “you can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies,” holds true, then the Green New Deal is the real thing. Its opponents are deathly scared of it.

Well, it’s not actually “a thing,” but rather a Resolution in the US House of Representatives. It’s not a bill, so the President doesn’t sign it, and nobody implements it. It’s a statement of principles and goals that falls somewhere between a mission statement and a New Year’s resolution.

So why are opponents already coming out of the woodwork, and why are they so angry? I think it’s because they’re scared. Here are three reasons why:

First, they’re scared of government overreach.

Opposition to FDR’s New Deal was similarly concerned with the government getting overly involved in our lives. Well, actually, they considered pretty much any involvement a bad thing back then, just as they do now. Our economy and national life are better crafted by Adam Smith’s invisible hand than any mindful managerial effort. How could government involvement in energy policy do anything but muck things up?

On this point, they’re absolutely right.

We wouldn’t have a nuclear industry in America had the government not absolved operators from liability for any damage caused if their atomic reactors turned into atomic bombs. In the early two thousands, the Feds decided that fracking for oil was such a good idea that it denied its own EPA the authority to monitor its impact on drinking water…and now we have man-made earthquakes shuddering across the American heartland, too. Our government conspired with industry “experts” to set low health standards for coal miners, so now there’s an epidemic of black lung disease.

Just think of the “price” we pay for an economy based on oil…rig explosions, tanker and pipeline leaks, and all that carbon getting thrown into the atmosphere so we can breath it. The social impact on communities that are exploited for their resources are even more stunningly horrible than the damage done to our physical environment.

Pretending that the government isn’t knee-deep in dictating our energy future isn’t an argument against a Green New Deal, but rather a ruse to preserve the Status Quo. It’s politics.

Second, they’re scared we’ll discover just how woefully inefficient our energy infrastructure really is.

Over 20 billion dollars worth of electricity leaked from the grid in 2014, and that’s after only two-thirds of the energy in the raw materials used to make that electricity ever got onto the grid in the first place. So to say that it’s inefficient is really an understatement.

And that “clean” electricity thing? 63% of electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas, where the word “clean” is a dirty word. Politicians and their lobbyist supporters want to scale back the EPA (led by its new chief, who was a coal company lobbyist himself), so producers can pollute more.

American homes rank eighth in the world in household electrical efficiency, and a third of the electricity used in commercial buildings goes to waste. Almost half of the fuel used by US manufacturers is used to produce steam, a fifth of which just dissipates into thin, but somewhat warmer, air.

So when the new EPA chief warns that using renewables would threaten the stability of the energy grid, or Greenpeace’s reactionary co-founder says that banning fossil fuels would mean every tree would be cut down instead (he calls Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “a pompous little twit“), they’re defending a system they know is bad…with arguments they know are not true.

They’re scared that the truth about inefficiency will become more widely known, and they’re desperate to keep us from considering alternatives other than those provided by Adam Smith’s invisible hand…which they seem to have placed over one eye, the other eye already blind to government’s role in creating the Status Quo.

Which gets me to the third reason they’re scared, which is that they know they’re wrong.

The entire rest of the world knows that climate change is real, and most Americans do, too, but it turns out that we’re cheap and fear change, so we don’t like the idea of dealing with it. We’re scared — we’ll declare it loudly on social media, and bring our own bags to the grocery store (when we remember to do it) — but we’re more afraid of the impacts on our wallets or routines.

That’s why we’re seeing attacks about government and infrastructure, and not the science.

The “what” of the Green New Deal demands a “when” and “how” that, so far, its most outspoken opponents have declined to consider. Their polls have told them to shift their obfuscation and obstruction from science to policy. Pushback from mainstream Democrats evidences the same political machinations.

But I think they’re wrong.

Most of us want to step back from incinerating the planet (or flooding it, or causing some combination of such Biblical punishments). We just don’t know how to do it, though we should know by now that relying on the magic of the free market isn’t just an unreasonable response, it’s what got us here in the first place (and it’s not free, by the way).

Businesses can and will adapt, just as we individuals do, but will it give us the world we really want?

No, it will give us the world to which we defaulted.

The idea that we should address this Status Quo, however imperfectly, is far from fringe. We’ve done it when there were other challenges facing us, from the Great Depression, to getting human beings to the Moon and back. Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey’s Green New Deal is a call to consider such a response and, like those other efforts, could well have a significant positive impact on technological innovation and job creation.

Why are its opponents scared? Because the rest of us aren’t.

[This essay originally appeared as a podcast at The Brand Populist]
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