February 7, 2019 / 10:01 PM / 11 days ago

Breakingviews - U.S. Green New Deal is at least a big idea

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed "Green New Deal" to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - The so-called Green New Deal proposed by progressive U.S. Democrats is vague, flawed and controversial. It envisages sweeping measures to combat both climate change and a raft of social ills. The plan may have little political chance in the near term. But at least it’s a big idea that could provoke a needed U.S. climate-related debate.

The last four years were the warmest on record, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said this week, linking the trend to greenhouse-gas emissions. Climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II, a report produced by U.S. government departments in November.

The administration of Republican President Donald Trump continues to pooh-pooh the threat, but the issue is shaping up to matter among Democrats vying to take Trump on in next year’s presidential election. With media-savvy champions like rookie lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez alongside Senator Ed Markey, who proposed legislation with similar goals a decade ago, it could force politicians to grapple with the details, just as Senator Bernie Sanders did with his proposal for universal healthcare.

The proposals launched on Thursday encompass investments to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions in 10 years, shift industries away from fossil fuels, help those affected by the changes, and provide universal healthcare and other welfare. Linking climate and social issues highlights how environmental change and measures to counter it are likely to hit hardest the people who can least absorb the damage.

The lack of detail raises questions, though, and the broad progressive wish list could make an easy target for Republicans seeking to paint their opponents as unrealistic socialists. There are specific flaws, too, including the neglect of nuclear power as a potentially important bridge between fossil fuels and the ideal of all-renewable energy.

Then there’s the expense of a huge government program. But it’s easier to sympathize with Ocasio-Cortez’s contention that cost is almost irrelevant if it is required to preserve future prosperity than with political opponents who ask how it will all be paid for, after recently passing massive unfunded cuts in corporate taxes.

In any event, by putting forth an ambitious plan, AOC, as she’s known, and Markey are forcing a serious discussion – and that’s overdue.

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