Green New Deal photo

Can America afford the Green New Deal? Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders believe so, or they think the U.S. should make a way.

It’s difficult to deny the impending perils of climate change.

Sixty-five wildfires have burnt 3.8 million acres across 11 states. The East Antarctic ice sheet, which accounts for 80% of the world’s ice, is more vulnerable than scientists thought.

That’s why a U.S. plan to combat the crisis has been gaining traction in the past year. The Green New Deal, proposed to Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, advocates for a transition to 100% clean energy in the U.S. by 2030 and decarbonizing the economy.

What would the Green New Deal accomplish?

Published on the Green Party’s website are three key requirements that the Green New Deal strives to meet.

First, the plan invests in eco-friendly businesses by providing grants and low-interest loans to green businesses. By focusing on small, locally based companies, says the Green Party, the plan not only encourages environmentally conscious business practices but keeps wealth created by local workers circulating in communities rather than going to the pockets of corporate CEOs.

Second, the Green New Deal holds an ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030. It’d achieve this by redirecting research funds from fossil fuel and other industries toward wind and solar power. Investing in and researching sustainable resources could eliminate waste and pollution which hurt the climate.

Third, by enacting the Full-Employment Program, the Green New Deal would add 20 million green jobs. People in these jobs would create sustainable energy and energy efficiency, green transit and eco-friendly agriculture practices.

Factory farming has largely affected climate change in recent years. Meat moguls continue to pollute air and water and contribute to deforestation to keep the big bucks flowing. 

Factory farms produce over one million tons of manure every day, according to a student at Pace University in New York. Because of the extreme amounts of manure that result as a product of factory farms, the industry has become a hotbed of concentrated methane emissions — a greenhouse gas that’s been a major contributor to global warming.

The big question: What’s the cost?

It’s no secret that the Green New Deal will be expensive, but it may not be as costly as some think.

When the plan was first unrolled, congressional Republicans threw out an exaggerated figure — $93 trillion — which discouraged many from supporting the Green New Deal. In actuality, it could cost anywhere from about $50 trillion to $90 trillion.

It depends on the plan for healthcare stipulated in the proposal. Many assume it includes Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All, which would add about $36 trillion to the cost, but the Green New Deal doesn’t mention Medicare for All. It merely states that healthcare should be high quality and provided to every American.

Excluding the healthcare section of the bill, the U.S. is looking at about $50 trillion over 10 years to solve the climate crisis.

How would we pay for it?

Fifty trillion dollars is, no doubt, a gargantuan amount of money. 

There are options, however, that could help fund this necessary deal. The brunt of the sum would most likely be financed through expanding on national debt and issuing bonds.

When a government borrows money, it can lead directly to the creation of paid jobs. This consequently results in both employment income and profits producing tax revenue.

In short, the Green New Deal could pay for itself. At least, that’s Bernie’s belief: Sanders claims the deal would create 20 million jobs, all of which would add to tax revenue. 

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However, middle- and lower-class Americans need not worry. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez propose a wealth tax — one that could bring in $5 trillion over the next decade through taxing the extremely wealthy. Only households with $32 million and over would see the effects of this plan, while the bottom 99% will see no change in their tax rates.

As the saying goes, only death and taxes are certain in life. But what about a wealth tax? Support from the left has grown as the wealthy are less trusted and respected than ever, but is a wealth tax constitutional, and would it work?

Sanders says the Green New Deal would pay for itself over the course of 15 years. In addition to savings, investments, job creation and the wealth tax, this can be done by having fossil fuel companies pay restitution for the damage done to the planet and scaling back military spending, which maintains global dependence on oil.

Biden’s plan for the climate is far from even resembling the Green New Deal. Biden aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 instead of 2030. He also pledged to uphold the Clean Air Act, which Trump has recently attempted to weaken. Biden’s plan will rejoin America to the Paris Agreement which Trump backed out of, impose pollution limits on existing companies and protect biodiversity.

Biden’s proposal isn’t as aggressive as the Green New Deal, and it may not be enough. The newly famous climate clock gives just over seven years until irreversible damage is done to the planet — damage that can’t be fixed and can’t be taken back.

Is it worth it?

There’s abundant discussion regarding the costs of the Green New Deal. Where’s that discourse when Congress continues to fund military spending and the fracking and fossil fuel industries, which, combined, will cost almost $2 trillion in the coming years?

The effects of climate change are real. They’re terrifying. They’re immediate.

If the climate emergency continues to be ignored, the world will see the damage it’s already witnessed, multiplied. There’ll be more droughts that ruin the agriculture industry, more wildfires that burn longer and spread further into urban areas and poor air quality that could cause an increase in hospitalizations, as seen with the wildfires this summer.

The effects on the quality of life seem like enough to many. For those who aren’t convinced yet, The New Republic breaks it down with numerical analysis of what all this damage would cost.

The U.S. is only 15% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The majority comes from China, which produces 28% of the world’s emissions. While not enough to save the planet on its own, the Green New Deal could make a dent. Any climate deal would need to assist and encourage other countries to use green energy as well. 

America is a wealthy country and a world leader — if the U.S. doesn’t step up, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.

The annual costs of climate change by 2090 in today's dollars include $26 billion in losses due to worsened air quality, $140 billion for temperature-related deaths, $160 billion lost in labor and $120 billion in coastal property damage. That’s $446 billion, and that’s just the beginning.

The New Republic also estimates $9.2 billion for changes to electricity demand, $5.5 billion for damage to rail systems and $21 billion for damages to roads and bridges. That’s $479.5 billion.

There’s more. There’ll be inland flooding, spread of disease and damage to various ecosystems like those of freshwater fish and coral reefs. The New Republic suggests an annual total of about $520 billion lost every year.

This amount may be a fraction of the cost for the Green New Deal, but if acted upon now, the plan could pay for itself in only 15 years. Fifteen years for a better chance of a prospering planet, and 15 years that may result in a booming economy.

What kind of world do parents want to leave their children? 

A world that’s burning and in drought, suffering medical emergency and enormous financial loss? Or a habitable planet with a flourishing economy and drastically better quality of life?

Charlotte Matherly is a junior media arts and design major. Contact Charlotte at mathercg@dukes.jmu.edu.