The Green New Deal: The Promise of Policy and Opportunities for Action

This op-ed is the latest in a series produced by Beam. To see the previous, click here.

New Yorker Magazine

In our last op-ed, we laid out the case for why we think only new innovations and cleantech will solve the current climate crisis, and that relying simply on current solar/wind deployment, and battery technology, won’t be enough to reach the red line drawn by the recent IPCC report in the next ten years.

This is the driving force behind Beam, and why we think this project is important. But let’s be clear: the U.S. also needs a comprehensive about-face, one that can radically reshape our economy and society. Beam, at its heart, is a private capital project — and while it empowers the immediate, crucial action needed today in advancing clean energy technology, it will be in the best position to impact clean technology innovation in the long run paired with sensible climate policy at all levels of government.

The Administration recently released, by way of burying it on Black Friday, a Congressionally-mandated, multi-agency National Climate Assessment Volume II on the impacts climate change will have on the U.S. economy and population, given its current pace. The report, to say the least, is dire. So were all of the other warnings in the past few decades, sure. But what makes this particular report significant are the inescapable conclusions it draws; that climate change will be measured in tens of billions of dollars in damage to the economy, and thousands of deaths each year, in our country alone. We can measure its impact in damage already done as well. According to an estimate from NOAA, Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Harvey cost the American taxpayer $265 billion. That is more money than the budgets of the Commerce dept, Education dept, and Labor dept, and a few others combined.

Whatever short-term gains our myopic climate denial has provided us will be swept aside in the coming years and decades. Cascading impacts to our water supplies, agriculture, coastlines, and the very fabric of our communities will be damages that will be increasingly difficult to predict and mitigate.

Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

Now to many, this is just saying what we already know. You don’t have to be a scientist to agree with the findings, and to accept the danger in continuing on our present course. Just look at what happened to California this month with the Camp Fire. The evidence couldn’t be any clearer. However, there is a silver lining I would like to highlight in the report that gives some cause for hope, and which bolsters the case for strong climate policy.

The NCAV II specifically cites that the aggressive climate policies at the state and city level are having a measurable positive impact in reaching the goals set out in the Paris Climate Accord, in spite of federal missteps, and in the case of certain agencies, active hostility toward these efforts. This is tremendously important. And while we need to push beyond the goals of Paris to truly avoid the worst effects, it should serve as encouragement for the kind of radical proposals we need at the highest level of government in the coming years, as the balance of power shifts in Congress (and eventually in the White House).

There are already politicians proposing bold, comprehensive policy solutions. One worth highlighting here is the Green New Deal, championed by incoming progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others. The Green New Deal is a sweeping economic and political proposal, and harkens back to its namesake, which poured huge amounts of federal investment into infrastructure and essential services aimed at uplifting a struggling economy and people. The Green New Deal aims to do the same, by turning the ‘green’ economy into an economic and jobs powerhouse, massively decarbonizing our power and transportation sector while incentivizing sustainable job creation and critical innovation. Think of it as war mobilization, but in the war against rising global temperatures.

Without drilling too far into the weeds, I’d like to highlight the key points in the proposed legislation.

The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall be developed in order to achieve the following goals, in each case in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of the Plan:

  1. 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
  2. building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
  3. upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety
  4. decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
  5. decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
  6. funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
  7. making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”

Each one of these bullet points is a huge undertaking in their own right, and they shouldn’t be viewed as concrete proposals, but together as a framework for a fully decarbonized economy. Furthermore, each one of these pillars, from building a smart national grid to 100% renewable generation, will require innovations like the ones we outlined in our first op-ed; ones that do not currently exist, or aren’t nearly market ready. We can’t decarbonize transportation without significantly better batteries, and 100% renewable will be incredibly disruptive without advanced, wide-spread energy storage. This is where point number 7 bears repetition — we need the funding mechanisms in place to make these goals a reality. Massive federal investment will undoubtedly need to be part of that.

It’s easy to call proposals like this “too radical” and unrealistic, and to point towards the long darling of traditional policy-makers — a direct carbon-tax. Billed as a simple solution to our fossil fuel problem, it’s recently run into some pushback from the leading scientists on the issue. When asked at the IPCC report release if putting a price on carbon could meet our CO2 reduction goals, the panelists simply laughed.

Simply put, and pointed out by plenty of other people, a carbon tax would only address our behavior of dependence, without directing any additional funds towards new technologies to fill the gap. Additionally, relying on market-based mechanisms alone to reduce our CO2 emissions would fall far short of the levels we need to reach. Taxes can be useful, but must be combined with regulatory levers and the direction of federal dollars and support towards sustainable replacements.

There is no doubt — this will ultimately be a historically expensive undertaking. But unlike climate change itself, which is and will exponentially increase as a massive drain on our economy and well-being for decades to come, this Green New Deal has the potential to be a massive economic driver and job program, and position the country as a world leader in cleantech. As with the original New Deal, there will be those that say it’s unrealistic and a waste of money. But in the face of a challenge like this, political will and a realignment of how we spend federal dollars are absolutely critical to make the change we need, and we have proof that economic stimuli work. One need only look towards our military spending to see that there is plenty of money to pay for programs like these, if our leaders in Congress can make it a priority.

This is just too important to let politics-as-usual get in the way.

It should be clear by now that a problem as far-reaching and urgent as climate change requires bold, progressive solutions — both in public and private spheres. This is where we believe Beam can have an impact. As an energized House of Representatives begins to tackle the important work of putting our climate policy back on track, we should all be considering what we can do as citizens, as investors, and chiefly as humans, to accelerate the development of clean energy technology for tomorrow. It’s not just our moral imperative, but it’s also our opportunity to make the future one we can benefit from in more ways than one. So while the fight to make the Green New Deal law may last for years, people can make a real difference now. That’s where Beam comes in.

At the Beam Project, we’re building a way for people to support clean energy startups developing transformative technologies we need to meet our climate goals. In doing so, we’re giving promising ventures that lack access to traditional funding the momentum and runway they need to get their innovations to market. In our next piece, we’ll explore how Beam can help start a movement empowered by everyday individuals in the fight against global climate disaster.

So please, urge your Congressman or Senator to support sensible climate policy, attend Bernie Sander’s upcoming town hall on climate change, and help change the conversation around climate policy towards what’s truly needed. And in the meantime, maybe check out what we’re up to at Beam and support some of the amazing startups helping making a difference today.

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