The new Democrats (“greenocrats”) have proposed a Green New Deal focused on climate change and radically changing the economy of the United States. As would be expected, the plan has been presented in strawman fashion (presenting a distorted or exaggerated version in place of the real thing) by many of its critics. Trump, for example, has taken up the talking points that the deal will “permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same.” Many proponents of the deal back it without criticism, which is as problematic as rejecting it based on the strawman attacks. In addition to these problems, there is also the label problem.
Boiled down to its essence, rhetoric is all about making people feel positive or negative about a subject using linguistic tools. One key tactic in rhetoric is loading terms emotionally, so that their mere use does much of the work—people feel positive or negative as soon as they hear the word and do not need to wait for any reasons or evidence. The term “green” is one such loaded term.
Proponents of the green tend to feel positive about it, so casting anything as green can elicit an unthinking positive response. This is why the term is used in advertising and politics when trying to appeal to (mostly) the left. Opponents of the green tend to feel negative about it, so casting anything as green can cause an unthinking negative response. As would be expected, people who want to cash in on a dislike of the green also use the term, but they use it as a pejorative rather than as a positive. Since the emotional response to the term “green” has no logical weight, to believe anything based on one’s feelings about the term would be a logical error. Unfortunately, the issues associated with matters of the green are critical issues for the future of the United States and the world. Unfortunate, I say, because the ideology and emotions associated with “green” make it difficult to have an objective and rational discussion of issues of climate change, energy strategy, economics and other critical issues.
One example of this is the Democrats proposed plan to decarbonize the United States in a decade. As noted above, the strawman version seems to be that the Democrats plan is to “permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military.” While decarbonization might require eliminating oil and gas as fuels, this does not entail that all planes, cars and cows will be eliminated. To state the obvious, there are already electric cars and electric planes are a real possibility. However, some proponents of the plan do seem to be blinded to reality by the green.
While electric cars are already viable and it is easy to imagine all new cars being electric (or non-fossil fuel powered) in 10 years, replacing all existing commercial aircraft with aircraft that do not emit carbon seems all but impossible. One obvious problem is creating engines and power sources that have the power and duration to allow for commercially viable flight. While there might be some way to refit existing aircraft to emit no carbon, that seems more like magic than science.
As Trump noted, making a carbon-free military would be problematic. While nuclear power is an option in some cases, military vehicles and aircraft need powerful, high performance engines and without a radical breakthrough in power systems it is hard to imagine that the military can go carbon free while still fielding combat vehicles. While I do love science-fiction and think that fusion powered tanks armed with plasma guns would be cool, I do not see that becoming a reality in the next decade.
While Trump did not mention this, one of the largest problems would be power generation. While coal has been outcompeted by natural gas, replacing the entire carbon producing power infrastructure with non-carbon powerplants is a practical impossibility. While some have mocked the idea of solar power as impossible because of the need for so much space for the panels, it would certainly be possible to phase out fossil fuels in favor of alternative power—but doing so in 10 years would seem to be a practical impossibility.
Given that the 10-year plan is unrealistic, it is a mistake for the Democrats to use that timetable. One obvious problem is the obvious: they are proposing something that is a practical impossibility. Another obvious problem is that if they were to push for the 10-year plan via laws, it is likely that doing so would create more harm than good. From a long-term political perspective, the plan can also do damage: when 10-years pass and the plan is far from being met, the Republicans can run hard on that failure. The Democrats are right to offer a plan for the future, but the timetable should be more realistic, otherwise they are just setting themselves up for failure.
The worst part about the plan is its deep dishonesty. It uses climate change as a pretext to impose a sweeping progressive transformation of the United States.
The plan is also incredibly coercive. People will be forced to get rid of their cars and buy new electric ones, upgrade their houses, quit flying, quit eating beef…
It uses climate change as a pretext to impose a sweeping progressive transformation of the United States.
Nothing new there:
‘Ottmar Edenhofer, a lead author of the IPCC’s fourth summary report released in 2007, candidly expressed the priority. Speaking in 2010, he advised, “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. Instead, climate change policy is about how we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth.”
Or, as U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres pointedly remarked, the true aim of the U.N.’s 2014 Paris climate conference was “to change the [capitalist] economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”
This is, of course, not relevant to the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The laws of physics don’t care what we think. However, this ability to leverage the issue for the purpose of wealth redistribution is why the left promote it – I would say exaggerate it – so much; and by extension why the right are skeptical, because they can clearly see that the left are just using it. Which is a pity, because the actual facts should be looked at for themselves, not as a political weapon.
Anyhow, anybody who can stand up and say with a straight face that “renewable energy” could possibly – even remotely possibly – power the world within the next half century is either lying or would not qualify for entry level high-school level maths. It truly amazes me that people are allowed to get away with statements like these.
Michael LaBossiere says
I think it would be possible with a moonshot style effort to get the world converted to renewable energy; there is also the chance that some startup company has something amazing under development. But, as you said, the 50 year goal would be unrealistic-at least without radical changes in leadership, behavior or technology.
Anyone who genuinely believes that AGW is a globally calamitous, existential threat would be calling for nuclear to replace all other power sources ASAP. That is a rational position. James Hansen, the originator of the current alarm, advocates nuclear. While I think he’s rather paranoid about the greenhouse effect because of his earlier career, I do believe he’s sincere and intellectually honest.
You can hope that some inventor will prove and harness cold fusion in his garage, or that Santa will decide to drop neat Mr. Fusion packs down every house’s chimney next year, or that benevolent aliens will arrive and solve the problem for us, but while the odds are unknowable about all of those, I’d bet on an asteroid strike before any of them.
This is a litmus test for me. People who genuinely believe the CO2 situation is dire have only nuclear to fall back on as an option, People who on one hand call for the destruction or replacement of the current energy system and are not calling for nuclear are not dealing with the issue at all, or not being honest.
Yes. It’s called “Magical Thinking” for a reason. Though to the general idea of freedom, as I’ve pointed out here before the most significant reason that freedom of not just thought but economic freedom is found in successful, prosperous societies is because by allowing individuals the freedom to do what they want not just with their own time but importantly with their own capital resources leads to more successes and also the most responsible, efficient allocation of those resources. Even when considering the waste one sees with 20/20 hindsight. Centrally planned, top down societies can have success (see Sputinik, similar) but over time, over a broad economy, the resources wasted by their failures far outweigh the big-idea successes. But try telling “smart” people that. SMDH.
Yet the more outspoken elements of the AGW freakout crowd are antithetical to economic freedom. Watermelons. Green on the outside, red on the inside.
Michael LaBossiere says
While I do like nuclear power, I am also aware of the waste problem. But, that can be solved.
Fusion is, and always will be, the power of the future.