In late August, Vermont Senator and Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released his ‘Green New Deal’, a comprehensive plan to address climate and social reform in America. While the term has been floating in the public consciousness since March, when a resolution of the same name was co-sponsored in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Sanders proposal is the first of the major Democratic Party candidates to ride its wave and apply the ‘Green New Deal’ title to his vision of collective action.
Sen. Sanders’ Green New Deal’ is ambitious. 16.3 trillion dollars over 10 years ambitious. 16,300,000,000,000. Just look at all those zeros! For some context, 16.3 trillion dollars is enough to pay for the US involvement in WWII four times over, to purchase 108 International Space Stations, or fill a football field with stacks of $100 bills over 160 feet high.
How is he planning to spend this money?
The proposal outlines initiatives and public investment packages intended to transition our nation to 100% renewable energy by 2030, completely decarbonize by 2050, modernize infrastructure/agriculture, create living wage jobs for millions, and ensure a social safety net for the underprivileged, unemployed, and those hit hardest on the frontlines of climate change.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and you’d need a legion of accountants and auditors to run the numbers. At 35 pages in length, the plan reads as more of a visionary blueprint than a budgetary statement; a canvas of campaign promises painted in broad strokes. Of the $16.3 trillion called for in the plan, nearly every dollar is earmarked to a specific cause. That said, no supplementary data is provided in the proposal explaining how each figure was reached, and though we have allocations for specific purposes–say 2.18 trillion for the weatherizing of homes–we lack the nuts and bolts of how this spending will be directed, and will absolutely need to see how he plans to fill in the gaps.
For reference, I’ve made a shorthand itemized list below.
|Green Climate Fund||$200,000,000|
|Renewable Energy Projects||$1,520,000,000,000|
|Energy Storage Capacity Improvements||$852,000,000,000|
|Modernizing Electric Grid||$526,000,000,000|
|Transition from Fossil Fuels to Electric Heating/Cooling in Homes||$964,000,000,000|
|Grants for the Trade-in of Fossil Fuel Vehicles to Electric Vehicles||$2,090,000,000,000|
|Trade-In Incentives to Replace Older Automobiles||$681,000,000,000|
|Electric Charging Station Infrastructure||$85,600,000,000|
|Electrification of Buses/Public Vehicles||$407,000,000,000|
|Transitioning Trucking Industry from Diesel to Electric Vehicles||$216,000,000,000|
|Public Transit Investments||$300,000,000,000|
|High Speed Rail Development||$607,000,000,000|
|Storage Shot Battery R&D||$30,000,000,000|
|Electric Vehicle Cost Reduction R&D||$100,000,000,000|
|Decarbonization of Shipping/Aviation R&D||$500,000,000,000|
|Fully Decarbonize Maritime/Aviation Shipping Industries||$150,000,000,000|
|Creation of Climate Justice Resiliency Fund||$40,000,000,000|
|WATER Act Programs||$34,850,000,000|
|Affordable Broadband Infrastructure||$150,000,000,000|
|Road Repair Projects||$77,000,000,000|
|Freight/Passenger Rural Network Developments||$5,000,000,000|
|Weatherizing and Modernizing Road Infrastructure||$636,100,000,000|
|Climate-proofing All New Infrastructure Built Over 10 Year Period||$300,000,000,000|
|Preparing Coastal Communities for Sea Level Rise||$162,000,000,000|
|Wildfire Restoration/Disaster Preparedness||$18,000,000,000|
|FEMA Disaster Mitigation Program||$2,000,000,000|
|Reauthorization/Expansion of CCC & Public Lands Projects||$171,000,000,000|
|Permanently Fund Land & Water Conservation Fund||$900,000,000|
|National Park Restoration Projects||$25,000,000,000|
|Transitioning Fossil Fuel Workers to Green Industry||$1,300,000,000,000|
|Black Lung Fund Investment||$15,000,000,000|
|Training Programs for High-Risk Industrial Workers||$100,000,000|
|Appalachian Regional Commission Investment||$2,530,000,000|
|Delta Regional Authority Investment||$506,400,000|
|Denali Commission Investment||$304,000,000|
|Northern Border Regional Commission Investment||$405,000,000|
|Southeast Crescent Regional Commission Investment||$94,000,000|
|Economic Development Assistance Programs Investment||$2,020,000,000|
|Climate-impacted Counties Infrastructure Investments||$130,000,000,000|
|Expansion of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program||$25,000,000,000|
|Universal School Meals Program||$215,800,000,000|
|Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program||$311,000,000,000|
|Fossil Fuel Well & Mine Cleanup||$100,000,000,000|
|Cleanup of Superfund Sites||$238,000,000,000|
|Cleanup of Brownfield Sites||$150,000,000,000|
|Agricultural Transition to Regenerative Practices||$410,000,000,000|
|Confined Animal Farms Transition to Regenerative Practices||$41,000,000,000|
|Socially Disadvantaged/Beginner Farmer Assistance||$41,000,000,000|
|Soil Health Improvements||$160,000,000,000|
|Regional Appropriate Farming Technique Investments||$1,480,000,000|
|Farmland Conservation Fund||$24,850,000,000|
|Organic Farming Transition Assistance||$500,000,000|
|Rural Energy For America Program||$1,400,000,000|
|Disadvantaged/Beginning Farm State Coordinator Program||$50,000,000|
|Tribal Land Access and Extension Programs||$1,120,000,000|
|Farmer Opportunity Training and Outreach Program||$1,000,000,000|
|Victory Lawn and Garden Initiative||$36,000,000,000|
|Co-Op Grocery Store Investments||$14,700,000,000|
|Local Food Processing Investments||$31,000,000,000|
|On-Farm Processing Investments||$263,000,000|
|Food Recovery/Composting Investments||$160,000,000,000|
Show Me the Money
Now that we’ve gaped at the price tag, and seen just whats under the hood, how do we go about paying for it?
For starters, getting rid of subsidies to fossil fuel companies. According to the International Monetary Fund, it was reported that the United States spent an estimated $650 Billion on subsidies for fossil fuel companies in 2015. That number exceeds defense spending in the same year by about $50 Billion. While it’s debatable how much damage removing these subsidies would have on the market, when scaled to a 10 year period between 2020 and 2030, assuming static subsidization with a fixed inflation rate of 2%, that figures to be roughly 7.53 trillion in recouped federal spending.
On top of this, Senator Sanders expects to net around 6.4 trillion in revenue over 10 years from selling renewable energy via regional power marketing authorities (perhaps nationalizing the energy grid?), 2.3 trillion in income taxes from the jobs created under the plan, and save an estimated 1.2 trillion in military expenses connected to the protection of oil routes. Not to be forgotten however, are those income taxes lost when the oil industry is taken apart. Crunched together, these numbers give us an extremely rough total of 17.43 trillion in funding for the Green New Deal.
Bottom line: are there doubts as to whether Mr. Sanders plan can actually pay for itself in 15 years as pitched? No question. Is it economically feasible for the richest nation on the planet to raise the amount given the right circumstances? It looks like it. Is it necessary? You be the judge, but as his plan warns, ‘‘If we do not take action, we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century.’’
FDR once said in a 1932 address, ‘The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.’
We’ve reached a point where sweeping governmental action is necessary if we’re to have any hope of curbing climate change. Senator Sanders ‘Green New Deal’ is objectively bold, expensive, and far-reaching, but you gotta give the man credit–he’s trying his moonshot.