Sunrise Movement protesters urging Democrats to back a Green New Deal in late 2018. Sunrise Movement
Last month’s rollout of the Green New Deal, a fourteen-page legislative resolution, sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, that called for “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” through a ten-year “national mobilization,” has sparked a good deal of controversy. The resolution was larded with goals not directly tied to the environment, such as guaranteeing everyone a job, affordable housing, and high-quality health care, and even some energy researchers who are enthusiastic proponents of transitioning rapidly to a zero-emissions economy questioned the timetable of a single decade for converting power production entirely to renewable sources.
“I don’t think anybody who is deep inside the substance is talking about that,” Jonathan Koomey, a special adviser to the chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, told me. Robert Pollin, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has helped design a number of Green New Deals for individual states, including New York and Washington, said, “I think it is wonderful that the issue is being addressed, but I don’t think this movement has yet accepted that you have to do these things carefully and rigorously.”
Despite these reservations, Koomey and Pollin, as well as a number of other researchers I spoke with, said the drafters of the Green New Deal were perfectly right to urge large-scale action across many parts of the economy, and they emphasized the technological opportunities that now exist to meet many of the environmental goals that underpin the proposed legislation, if not the exact timetable it lays down. In a report released in October, which the Democratic resolution cites and endorses, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that if the world is to contain the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon emissions must be reduced by about fifty per cent before 2030, and completely phased out before 2050. For a U.S. economy that currently relies on fossil fuels for about four-fifths of its energy, achieving zero emissions, or something close to it, by the middle of the century would be a historic transformation. And, according to all the researchers I spoke with, rapidly advancing technology and the falling costs of clean energy make this more achievable than ever.
“Right now, we have about ninety per cent or ninety-five per cent of the technology we need,” Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, told me. MORE