Green New Deal: Thinking big, thinking forward

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tacitly acknowledged a basic economic truth when he announced this week that he would bring to a vote the Green New Deal resolution proposed by liberal Democrats.

McConnell thinks he knows what will happen, and he is probably right. The nonbinding resolution is far more an ideal than it is a policy statement. It aims to invent climate-tempering technology while also creating jobs, shoring up labor unions, transforming agriculture and transportation, and providing universal health care. In trying to propose so much, it is an easy target to attack. To many senators the proposal sounds way too socialistic to risk being associated with it. The Republican leader expects it to lose. As a bonus, McConnell aims to discomfort the four Democratic potential presidential candidates in the Senate who have already given it their support.

The Senate majority leader recognizes, however, the popular appeal of confronting a huge set of problems with a matching set of solutions. It could be, as Connecticut's Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy put it, "a moon shot" — a risky, tantalizing objective that, if achieved, would change everything.

A ramped-up space age and all the technology it spawned were the results when President John F. Kennedy in 1961 vowed the country would, within the decade, put a man on the moon and safely return him to Earth, and did. And as the name Green New Deal suggests, the proposal echoes the sweeping economic and social changes that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to reverse the Great Depression — with mixed success — and create Social Security, the income tax and desperately needed jobs.

McConnell doubtlessly understands that while the Green New Deal mix of economic and zero-net-carbon proposals may sound overreaching right now, people are shortly going to be forced to realize that climate change is about the economy and the economy is about climate change. A Senate vote against the nonbinding resolution would at least offer Republican lawmakers a chance to suggest what instead should be done, given that the Republican White House asserts the answer to that is "nothing."

The Green New Deal concept has in fact been around for over a decade. It encompasses proposals that attempt to match up two great needs in a mutual solution: the lowering of carbon emissions — greenhouse gases — and new jobs in the technologies launched to accomplish that. During the Great Recession the idea went quiet, as world leaders focused on bringing the markets back to "normal."

Now, in the hiatus between that recession and the next one, whenever it comes, the urgency of dealing with the four hottest years on record, extreme and frequent storms, coastal submersion, extinction of species and the prospect of billions of displaced, hungry, thirsty people is unmistakeable. If the current proposal goes nowhere, it will still have served the purpose of reigniting the national discussion.

Many states, meanwhile, are moving ahead with initiatives that may serve as models for larger-scale solutions. Connecticut has been a leader as one of nine states reducing carbon emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which uses the cap-and-trade system as an incentive to industry. The state's energy policy, which formr Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioners at first steered toward favoring natural gas, has already been re-focused on nuclear power and renewable sources. Gov. Ned Lamont is welcoming wind power development — and the jobs and other economic benefits of building its infrastructure — to Connecticut.

Shortly before release of the proposal, Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly announced their priorities in this session would include a Green New Deal to develop programs and funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainability and resiliency of the electric grid, and coastal protection. The specifics of what they and the governor will propose should be known soon, as Lamont prepares to send his first budget to the legislature next week.

Most of the world has moved beyond the "if" of climate and economy to the "how" and "when." If the United States would act as it has in the past — vigorous, visionary and superbly competent — it could reclaim its global technology leadership and reinvigorate its exporting of technology to developing countries that contribute the largest share of greenhouse gases to the planet.

That wouldn't just make America great again; it would help save the planet for future generations.  

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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