Bringing the Green New Deal home
Writing in the Janesville, WI GazetteExtra, John Imes writes:
The Green New Deal resolution introduced in Congress calls for a massive U.S. mobilization over 10 years to achieve the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of high-wage jobs and sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, while the science and need for federal action on climate change are clear, we can’t expect serious policymaking on the topic to come out of Washington until 2021 at the earliest.
Fortunately, it’s a new day in Wisconsin and the state is well positioned to make headway on many of the goals and objectives as outlined in the Green New Deal. For example…
Well, it’s also a new day in New Jersey, and indeed in every other state, and since we’re here, let’s do the comparison.
100 percent clean energy. The new Energy Master Plan, to be completed on or before June 1, 2019, shall, according to Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 28,
provide a comprehensive blueprint for the total conversion of the State’s energy production profile to 100% clean energy sources on or before January 1, 2050, and shall further provide specific proposals to be implemented over the next ten (10) years in order to achieve the January 1, 2050 goal.
Murphy’s directive immediately put New Jersey back in the lead in the national race to develop a clean energy economy, according to a Forbes article at the time. “New Jersey now has America’s most ambitious offshore wind and energy storage targets,” the article states, and moves NJ into the “exclusive “50×30” club that includes New York, Hawaii, California, and Vermont as the only states requiring 50% renewable energy by 2030.” Almost immediately, however, California moved back into the lead by setting a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.
In Wisconsin, Imes writes,
A new report by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy shows how the state can move away from fossil fuels and meet a 100 percent renewable energy goal by using solar, wind, biomass and energy efficiency while creating 162,000 clean energy jobs and bringing over $14 billion in economic activity back in the state.
Since Wisconsin’s population is about two-thirds of NJ’s 9 million, the corresponding figures should be 243,000 clean energy jobs, and more than $21 billion in new economic activity — and these figures seem conservative. NJ’s economy is over $600 billion a year, and our estimate of the potential for clean energy improvements in buildings alone is nearly $130 billion over the next decade.
Rethinking transportation. NJ’s transportation sector accounts for 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, its largest single source. In December 2018, one day after Governor’s announcement of the state’s decision to rejoin RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative , a cap-and-trade program for power plants, Murphy also announced that NJ would join the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), intended to create a RGGI-type program for fossil-fuel combustion.
Green building upgrades. Imes writes:
The state can also take the lead on green retrofits for state-owned buildings and leverage the permitting process and building codes to make buildings operate more efficiently. Local communities can upgrade facilities and use property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing to fund energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation projects—all without the need for taxpayer assistance.
In fact, our organization has been advocating for PACE in New Jersey for more than six years, and it’s high time that the Governor and the Legislature got together to move the PACE bill (A1902/S1611) forward. Most recently, we’ve pointed out that NJ’s proposed stormwater utilities legislation provides the perfect opportunity for the state to enable PACE so that commercial property owners can address their stormwater problems on-site, rather than paying new taxes to have municipalities implement costly new infrastructure projects to address these issues.
Sustainable economic development. Imes notes that Wisconsin has a “Green Tier” law, which includes a provision allowing “the state [to] accelerate the emerging clean economy by engaging businesses across sectors using innovative charter agreements. This little-known provision of Wisconsin’s green tier law can help reduce carbon emissions while providing companies with operational flexibility. The state can also target incentives, including tax credits, loan guarantees and preference on purchasing contracts for firms that achieve superior environmental results.”
This is something NJ would do well to emulate. Perhaps this is something that can be taken up by the NJ Sustainable Business Council.
Regenerative agriculture. New Jersey’s agricultural sector is tiny compared to that of Wisconsin, but it can be a leader in permaculture and other regenerative practices. Such practices “increase farmer’s profits, rebuild soils, clean our waterways and expand renewable energy.” It’s estimated that “carbon farming” alone could absorb all of humanity’s excess CO2 emissions, if it were practiced widely enough.
Although millions of people around the world use these practices in some way, people in Western nations are largely unfamiliar with them, and there is little coordinated support to encourage farmers to adopt them. But if widely supported, implemented, and developed on a global scale in conjunction with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions, these “carbon farming” practices–a suite of crops and practices that sequester carbon while simultaneously meeting human needs–could play a critical role in preventing catastrophic climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere and safely storing it in soils and perennial vegetation.
Carbon-restored soils grow healthier food and can provide good jobs. Growing things organically is more labor-intensive, but it is also more rewarding. Organic food currently commands a premium in the marketplace, but could become the norm if we taxed the full extent of the externalities of conventional agriculture. Agriculture accounts for about 9% of emissions in the U.S., but must become an effective carbon sink in the future, absorbing more greenhouse gases than it emits, and possibly forming a key part of the global climate solution. Cleaning the air and the water of agricultural toxins and chemical pollutants is also critical to restoring the health and regenerative capacity of the biosphere. What we’re really talking about is repairing the life-support system for planet Earth, or as James Lovelock puts it, “healing Gaia.”
Clean infrastructure and restore natural systems. New Jersey needs to “mainstream” green infrastructure, as NJFuture puts it. And this is just one facet of the need to upgrade the water treatment and distribution systems throughout the state; as they note,
New Jersey’s cities and towns face a multi-billion-dollar price-tag to fix drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The cost of not fixing them will be even higher.
One promising new initiative is Jersey Water Works, “a cross-sector collaborative focused on transforming New Jersey’s inadequate urban water infrastructure by investing in sustainable, cost-effective solutions that provide communities with clean water and waterways; healthier, safer neighborhoods; local jobs; flood and climate resilience; and economic growth.”
The Green New Deal, as it is currently being used, leaves a fair amount of room for different interpretations and applications. One version, currently posted on the Green Party web site, suggests that it is possible to get to 100% clean energy by 2030, with no nukes or natural gas. The congressional resolution, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, does not mention nuclear at all, but aims to achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050. All of the versions do, however, emphasize not only the need for a sustainable environment, but also the need for doing so in a way that increases social, economic, and environmental justice. At first these might not seem necessarily related, but as was emphasized in the Natural Step framework first introduced in 1989, it’s important that any approach seek to meet universal human needs, as otherwise humans will continue to damage the world around them in order to obtain the means of survival.
The Green New Deal is a call to action. Wisconsin needs an economy that works for everyone, invests in innovative policies and takes care of workers. By investing in clean energy, clean manufacturing, water stewardship and regenerative agriculture while we “green” our infrastructure and electrify our transportation, we can address climate change and create a more resilient, vibrant and thriving Wisconsin.
The same is true for New Jersey, as well as for every other state, the nation, and the world as a whole. This also offers us a path—and truly the only meaningful path—to a level of global prosperity greater than the world has ever known.