Global Climate Change and the Green New Deal
Almost 18 months ago, freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed a resolution in Congress that she called the “Green New Deal”. After re-reading it recently, I can say that I’m a fan of the “Green” part, but not so much with the “New Deal” part. Global climate change is a controversial issue with advocates on all sides of the argument defending their positions with sharp rhetoric and pretentious factoids designed to convince everyone of the righteousness of their argument.
That said, on its surface, the so-called Green New Deal initiative is intended to deal with the catastrophic effects of global climate change, an issue which most environmental experts claim to be the largest growing (yet most easily correctable) threat to humanity, not just to Americans. The proposal itself is a “non-binding agreement” which means that it cannot, of itself, become law. Even if it passed both Congressional chambers, separate legislation would need to be introduced to make any of the resolution’s goals a reality.
The resolution is modeled in part after the New Deal programs designed to stabilize the economy and recover from the Great Depression of the 1930s. In contrast, the Green New Deal focuses in part on tackling climate change, but that is not its sole concern. There are five primary goals that the resolution proposes can be achieved within a 10-year period, but of those five proposed goals, only two address the environmental issue. The other three seem to address tent-pole issues endemic to the Democratic Party.
- (Green) Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.
- (New Deal) Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.
- (New Deal) Invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
- (Green) Secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment.
- (Neither Green, nor New Deal) Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (“frontline and vulnerable communities”).
The resolution goes on to propose additional aims and projects to accomplish these overarching goals, but generally does not stipulate how the country will reach them. The resolution is also silent on cost and funding mechanisms.
The fact that this is a non-binding agreement speaks well, I think, to its proposed goals, but at least two of the five goals are, or should be, well outside of the bailiwick of the government’s direct involvement, or even its oversight. As Libertarians, it is our decided belief that government should not be influencing businesses to create jobs that “ensure prosperity and economic security” (goal 2 above). The government can say “this is what we propose”, but Libertarians believe that people are far more capable than the government of creating those products and services that the government proposes. Nor should the government promote any specific social agenda (goal 5 above). Whether the government should be in the position of investing in either (or both) infrastructure or industry is something of a “gray area”.
As your congressman, I would wholeheartedly advocate for the “green” portions of this proposal, but I would hesitate to support any of the “new deal” ideas within the proposal simply because I do not believe that the government should be your employer. To do so sets up what I think would be a dangerous precedent that would almost certainly have come to fruition in the 1940s had the United States not entered World War 2; institutionalized authoritarianism.
Exploring a Tangent: National Parks
Before the Civil War, the exploration of what would become the lands of the western United States (primarily for settlement and resource exploitation) revealed that the climate, environment, and geology in the west was vastly different from that of the lands in the eastern United States. After the war, military engineers did much of the land surveying and information gathering of western areas, publishing their findings in annual reports, scientific and popular journals, and providing images to entrepreneurs for duplication. Whereas before the war, public opinion about the west was that it was a place of mystery -- to be feared -- and a place to quickly cross over to arrive at the Pacific coast, the dissemination of this information about the west transformed it from a fearsome place to be avoided into a place of vast wonder and monumental size to be experienced by anyone and everyone. As tourists once flocked to sites in the eastern United States like Niagara Falls to witness nature's wonders first-hand, now western sites like Yosemite and Yellowstone became popular tourist vacation destinations.
Unfortunately, this newly found popularity also posed the greatest threat to its continued existence, with widespread abuses of these sites from land speculation and mistreatment of Native Americans on reserved lands. One of the most imaginative -- and uniquely American -- responses in an effort to combat these issues was the creation of the national park system. The state of California reserved Yosemite as parkland in 1864, and the federal government followed suit. On March 1, 1872, by an act of Congress, the upper reaches of the Yellowstone river, a region called Colter's Hell, and its surrounding areas were designated as a federally protected national park, "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people".
Modern criteria for the selection of national parks includes natural beauty, unique geological features, unusual ecosystems, and recreational opportunities (though these criteria are not always considered together). National monuments, on the other hand, are frequently chosen for their historical or archaeological significance. At the time of this writing, fourteen U.S. national parks are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
As a general rule, Libertarians believe that the government should not own land. My personal interpretation of that belief is that its intent was to set limits on the government becoming a "landlord", thus deriving additional income from rents, leases, and the like. Dedicating federally protected lands for the benefit of the people -- all people, not just American citizens -- is an exception to that belief that I absolutely support.