I’ll see your trillion, and raise you a few trillion more.
This is the arms race going on in the Democratic presidential campaign over climate policy, with candidates trying to outdo each other on the audacity—and cost—of their plans to combat global warming. An ordinary voter could easily conclude the Democrats want to spend every federal dollar in sight on green energy, with nothing left for roads, troops or airports.
Every major Democratic presidential candidate supports the concept of the Green New Deal, which is a socialist manifesto for remaking the energy, transportation and real-estate sectors by government diktat. One think tank estimated this plan would cost the average U.S. household at least $36,000 per year. Got that kind of spare change under the cushions?
Some of the Democratic candidates break with the GND on specifics such as guaranteed jobs for everybody and “free” health care, which don’t have any actual connection with climate policy. Yet the opening bid for a Democratic climate plan is at least $1 trillion in new spending over a decade, with many of the leading candidates going much higher than that.
Bernie Sanders’ plan would cost $16 trillion over a decade. Kamala Harris comes in second in the spending derby, with a $10 trillion plan. Looking modest, by comparison, are plans by Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker ($3 trillion each), Pete Buttigieg ($2 trillion), Joe Biden ($1.7 trillion) and Beto O’Rourke ($1.5 trillion).
These plans all aim to eliminate carbon energy in the United States within a couple of decades, through measures ranging from a government takeover of the energy sector to new funding for breakthrough technology. The goal is appropriate, and the urgency is probably justified, given the destructive reality of rising seas, rougher weather and the other troubling consequences of global warming. But totally missing is any effort to harness the power of capitalism to address the problem, which is often the fastest way to force change, if incentives are structured correctly.
Republicans’ heads are in the sand
Republicans once had pragmatic, effective ideas on climate policy, such as the “cap and trade” plan that helped end the scourge of acid rain. But the party has its head in the sand now, as the tide laps higher and higher. Some Republicans still believe junk science claiming global warming is a hoax. President Trump may be the Denier-in-Chief. His climate policy involves more burning of fossil fuels, not less. He thinks windmills cause cancer. When reporters asked him about climate change at an August summit meeting in Paris, he defended his record by citing all the environmental impact statements he’s been forced to sign as a developer.
Instead of Trumpian evasions, the nation needs a coherent Republican climate policy that can counter disruptive Democratic plans that would probably terrify voters if ever enacted. A practical plan based on free-market incentives would involve a carbon tax along with some kind of cap-and-trade system that allows the large-scale trading of emission credits. More would be needed, including technological breakthroughs in energy storage, smart grids, hydrogen power and possibly carbon capture. Nuclear power should probably play a role.
If fostered in a capitalist model, new forms of energy could become large industries that employ millions, create new forms of national wealth and help arrest global warming. If the government is in charge, we’ll have much slower progress, debacles such as Solyndra and trillions of new dollars for politicians to misspend and direct toward favored constituents.
Without practical climate polices, we could also end up waiting longer to address global warming, and doing it less effectively. Progressives such as Warren and Sanders say global warming is such a big problem that a revolutionary approach is the only way forward. But sweeping plans with gigantic price tags also warn voters to be careful about what they ask for. Revolutions crush people, and only the survivors end up favoring them in the end.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman