Rethink Energy has long believed that governments never lead, they merely follow, and this is pretty much the positioning the US Democratic party wants to adopt with a fresh “watered down” initiative into solving the climate crisis.
The worry is that the US risks ending up like Australia, moving from renewables poster child to pantomime villain on climate issues, because support for climate change was not strong enough to depose the incumbent political party. In Australia the old guard got in and immediately opened up the floodgates for coal support. A second term for Trump, where he insists on subsidizing the coal industry would be a disaster for global climate change, and likely for the renewables industry.
So this is the Democratic party not “following” the science of climate change, but simply weakening policy, aligning it with what the voters will accept, not what the scientists feel is right, and following voter sentiment – which is always the way – hence politicians as followers. The world needs a strong US in renewables, or risks conceding the entirely global energy market to China, and leaving a swathe of countries who continue to completely ignore climate warnings.
Also the key element here is to do this on Trump’s watch, so that instead of waiting for next year’s polls, and the need to campaign on the potentially expensive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal, and risk disaster, it can push for legislation now. Essentially it has moved the target from zero emissions by 2030, which would give the US the moral high ground, to zero by 2050, which spreads what is seen as a huge investment over more years. It might be one that Republicans can also get behind simply so that it can also “ignore” climate in the next election, as dealt with.
The truth is that the renewables dividend can be reaped in jobs and profits, which bring improved taxation, and more government revenues. Yes some of that is then spent on stimulating the rise of renewables, but it could potentially be a zero sum game, after initial investments.
President Trump is also a follower here. He wants to put life back into the rustbelt, best known for steel production and large scale manufacturing and naturally he thinks turning back time is the way to do it because that’s what voters naively ask for – create those steel and car jobs that the region is known for. But actually these areas are perfect for manufacture of wind farms and the creation of completed panels for solar farms. All it needed was limited government stimulus… not a time machine.
So how much skin has this new democrat initiative shed from the bones of the Green New Deal?
“If we don’t go down to net-zero carbon pollution by 2050 we have a catastrophic situation,” said Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the committee and quoted in a US paper.
The key issue though is alienating the swing voter with aggressive spending plans. The idea is to get together with stakeholders and create legislation by year end on how to decarbonize the economy – slowly and cheaply. Some parts of the Green New Deal might be kept, but only if they do not set alarm bells ringing among spending averse swing voters. Some have estimated that it may cost as much as $1 trillion a year. Less talk of those kinds of numbers please.
So instead of leading the way to a global climate goal, the Democrats plan to put in place an aim that will miss the global target of 1.5 C, but get there in the end, effectively being led by voters and not leading them.
Now this may not be the final outcome. The issue is getting elected, by putting in place a bipartisan climate plan when the democrats control Congress and the Republicans control the Senate and hope the President does not veto it. Then the democrats in the 2020 election will be free to avoid discussing climate change if the electorate responds badly to it. If the Democrats won that election, the incoming president would be free to “accelerate” the plan, but never have to promise this prior to election, while a Republican – specifically a re-elected Trump, could just do the bare minimum in the plan.
The trick is to put over ideas as aggressive, but not have them mistaken for socialist climate policies. In the US a single whiff of socialism can kill of a candidate’s appeal.
It matters not that both Democrat front runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have already outlined tough positions on climate change, but they do not have to constantly repeat these if the incumbents can get some legislation through the existing government administration.
The Environment and Climate Change subcommittee is merely asking that 100% clean energy and zero net carbon pollution by 2050 is the guidepost for every energy, environmental, and economic policy decision. And hopefully no tweets to the contrary.5