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PODCAST: What to Watch for in a Green New Deal

Lawrence MacDonald, WRI Vice President for Communications, recently welcomed two guests to the WRI Podcast: Dan Lashof, director of WRI US, and Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs.

Their topic? The Green New Deal, a joint resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass). With the U.S. Congress largely silent on the subject of ambitious climate legislation—at least since the 2009 push for a federal cap-and-trade program—the idea of a Green New Deal has stirred attention to climate change like never before.

"The basic idea of a Green New Deal, as Lashof explained, is that “we need to transition to a clean energy economy and get to zero net emission of greenhouse gases that are changing our climate as quickly as possible. And we need to do that in a way that produces good jobs and reduces income inequality at the same time.”

“Young people are pushing our political system to deal with the problems of climate change and inequality that have been kicked down the road for so long,” he answered, when asked about what has catalyzed the excitement around a Green New Deal.

To point the way towards what the Green New Deal should include, Lashof recently published “5 Things to Look for in the Green New Deal.” In the podcast, MacDonald, Lashof and DeConcini walk through these five items, which include:

  • What does “clean energy” mean, and how quickly can we get to 100 percent?
  • What kind of infrastructure do we need to support a clean energy economy?
  • Should the Green New Deal include a carbon tax?
  • How do we ensure the Green New Deal benefits all Americans?
  • What happens to fossil fuel workers?

The House resolution is “designed to be a framework, and legislators will end up putting meat on those bones,” DeConcini explained. As Lashof noted, the resolution does provide some responses to the questions he had posed. It shoots for clean electricity in ten years and makes space for zero-carbon technologies like carbon capture and storage and nuclear power in addition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

For an idea of how possible this is, Lashof said “[The resolution’s clean energy target] would require installing new electricity technology at the pace maybe ten times faster than we’ve ever done it in the U.S.” At the same time, “during World War 2, something like 40-60 percent of our GNP was focused on the war effort. On the electricity side, we’re not talking about nearly that much, maybe 5 percent of GNP would be the order of magnitude of the investment needed to get to clean energy in ten years. It’s a lot compared to what we’re doing now, not that much compared with a World War Two-style mobilization.”

They also discuss a left-right coalition on carbon pricing and its relationship to the Green New Deal. “A carbon price alone is not sufficient,” DeConcini said, “We think it’s an essential piece, but it’s not sufficient.” Lashof continued that he will be watching how Green New Deal legislation addresses a “just transition” that helps fossil fuel workers displaced by the conversion to clean energy. He cited Spain’s agreement with coal miners as an example for legislators to look towards.

Listen to the full podcast below:

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