By Kate Robinson '21
The planet is melting. Any survivable future will surely include the end of air travel, non-electric cars, hamburgers, and ice cream. In short, all the luxuries that make life worth living will be gone. Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary, this is the tyrannical future of the disgusting, socialist Green New Deal. Right? Well, not really. But let’s talk about it.
What is the Green New Deal? Well, the New Deal was a policy vision enacted by FDR in response to the Great Depression. The core idea was that we had managed to seriously mess up the economy, and that to deal with that state of emergency, we needed radical, courageous change. Supporters of the Green New Deal, myself included, say that the world is in a similar place today with the climate crisis. Action on the scale needed would involve reorganizing the economy by providing support for people in a time of mass job transition to low-carbon work, investing heavily in clean infrastructure and urban design, and working to provide all people, no matter their income, with clean water, air, and medicine. It’s more of an aspirational concept for the future than a set of specific policies, so when you hear someone say that the Green New Deal would eliminate all hamburgers, don’t worry.
Now, I know someone reading this is muttering about how this is equivalent to Maoism. So, let’s answer the socialism question. The Overton Window, which is political science jargon for whatever is considered normal, is very different in America than it is in the rest of the world. Globally, the idea that everyone should have access to basic housing and healthcare is not considered some leftist plot to overthrow the free market, while in America, who knows. The Green New Deal does operate under the mostly uncontroversial idea that our current version of capitalism is flawed because it has resulted in pollution, record inequality, and people working multiple full-time minimum wage jobs just to stay afloat. If that means socialism to you, then the Green New Deal is socialist.
But does it even matter? We don’t live in the Cold War era anymore, and socialism isn’t some dirty monster taking over in distant lands and destroying basic freedoms. Socialism in 2019 is the democratic socialism of Scandinavia, not Maoist China. I can’t speak for everyone, but if becoming a little more like Finland is the heaviest cost of saving the environment, then I think I’d be okay with that. But chances are, you care less about debating what is technically socialism, and more about what concrete policies we need to enact, so let’s jump in.
If you think that we need to take sweeping action to begin a general reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, you’re in luck! Right now, it’s basically free to pollute the air. When you litter, you pay a fine, so why shouldn’t pollution be the same? Pricing carbon is very effective. In the UK, since adopting carbon pricing, emissions have fallen to 1890 levels. You can price carbon different ways, but I’m a fan of cap-and-trade, which sets a cap on the quantity of pollution in a year. Emissions permits are granted to polluting companies, covering a given unit of the total quantity of pollution. Firms can then trade with one another for permits, since some industries can switch far more easily to less environmentally detrimental technologies.
This is a little less straightforward than a tax, but it gives companies a lot more autonomy in how much they want to invest in reducing emissions. For example, it is a lot easier for manufacturers to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy than it is for an airline to replace every plane with a slightly more carbon efficient model. It might be easier for that airline to invest in long-term technology development, but in the meanwhile buy up the manufacturer’s emissions permit. And that’s where cap-and-trade is cool. For all of you still foaming at the mouth about socialism, rather than just increasing the price of pollution, cap-and-trade uses the dynamics of the free market to increase the price of pollution in a more flexible--but potentially even more effective--way, as it assures we will not exceed a certain maximum of pollution.
But let’s return to the question on everyone’s mind. What about the hamburgers? Prepare yourselves, because I’m about to propose something very unpopular: a meat tax. I hear your gasps, so let me explain. American meat consumption is out of control. Even though a meat based diet is more expensive than a vegetarian one, in 2018, the USDA projected that the average American would eat 222.2 lbs. of red meat and poultry, breaking records. That number is staggering, but here is why it’s crazy. Nutritionists recommend about half that amount. Aside from the public health cost, the environmental impact is even worse. 52.8 gallons are used to produce one quarter pound hamburger, and 74.5 square feet of land. Now add methane emissions, and the deforestation to produce grazing land. We tax alcohol and tobacco just because they are bad for public health. If meat is not only bad for public health, but also terrible for the environment, why not tax meat too?
No, I’m not going to come take your hamburgers. But radical change means entertaining radical ideas, and that includes critically examining some democratic socialist policies, and some price on the impact of the meat industry. This Friday is a global strike to demand more serious action on climate change. We’re organizing NCS students to walkout and march to Capitol Hill. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to come join the revolution!