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.